Outback solar to provide international lessons

An Australian study about the impacts of solar generation on urban electricity grids has revealed that Alice Springs offers valuable experience and expertise to share with the rest of the world.

The Northern Territory town was the first in Australia chosen for research conducted by the Australian Photovoltaic (PV) Association.

The research will feed into Australia’s active participation in the International Energy Agency (IEA) PV Power Systems program (PVPS), which provides a forum for all IEA countries to share knowledge and experiences on the integration of high levels of PV into electricity grids.

“It’s all about the ‘penetration level’ of solar in our town, the impacts and repercussions of that, and how our experiences can help the national and international industry,” Alice Solar City general manager Sam Latz said.

“In the last three years Alice Springs has gone from a penetration level of virtually zero to 2.5 per cent, which means that the town now meets 2.5 per cent of its electricity consumption per annum via solar PV. This increases to a peak of 8 per cent on sunny winter days.

“This rapid increase actually begins to have impacts on the overall electricity grid and electricity supply, and already Power and Water Corporation has witnessed measurable fluctuations to the peak load of electricity at the power station caused by PV.”

Other impacts can include changes in how the gas/ diesel generators are operated and how system faults are dealt with, customer PV systems dropping out, voltage changes in the power lines, and fluctuations on the grid due to cloud cover.

“Alice Springs may just be a small dot on the Australian map, but we now have a reputation as a leader in solar technology and have valuable solar lessons to share with the rest of the world,” Mr Latz said.

Power and Water Corporation sustainability manager Trevor Horman said the solar penetration level in Alice Springs was being monitoring and they are developing policies for how to manage them should the level of solar PV increase.

Mr Latz suggests that the take-up of PV in the town is very likely to rise, but perhaps not at the same rate it has in the last three years.

“In just over three years the town has gone from having just two residential PV systems to 528, with the bulk of these initiated through the Alice Solar City project,” Mr Latz said.

“Alice Solar City, as part of the Australian Government’s Solar Cities program, has definitely been a driving force for this PV take-up and it has created a momentum for residents and businesses to continue their investment in solar into the future.”

“The commercial sector has installed
1140 kW, the residential sector
994 kW, and the recent addition of the one- megawatt Uterne solar power station has taken solar capacity to 3.1 MW, equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 650 Alice Springs homes.”

“The locations of the PV systems are spread widely around the town, which is actually a benefit when it comes to managing the impacts of PV penetration, however the highest concentration of PV appears to be in the Old Eastside area, and, of course, at the Uterne power station.”

“Cloud cover over an area of town where there is a lot of PV can cause a noticeable change on the electricity supply at the grid; our knowledge of these impacts is one of the many lessons we can share with other regions around the world with similar autonomous electricity supply systems.”

“A separate local study by Charles Darwin University is also now looking at the street with the highest number of connected PV systems and how that affects the local and broader electricity network.”

Alice Springs was selected as the first case study for the national research project because its electricity supply system is similar to many regional areas in Australia, it has extremely high solar exposure, and because of the sheer amount of support for solar projects in the town.