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It is not easy to build another solar farm in Australia



"Due to the increased generation of connections of the same technology in an area, a daily pattern is observed as a result of a larger supply and low demand during the day. As a result, the MLF & # 39; s in these areas are greatly reduced." (A real good insight into the changes in MLF & # 39; s and a useful explanation and observation from a leading project manager can be found in this story).

The story about MLF & # 39; s, and the growing list of challenges and rules for connection and commissioning, goes to a common theme: not many people in the energy sector anticipated the scale of the build-out in wind and solar energy parks the last two years, and even fewer were prepared – the network operators and the regulators mainly among them.

MLF & # 39; s, for example, are not new. Most solar farms have commissioned modeling by industry experts and consulting firms to advise them on the risks and prospects. Most were told that there would be no problem. Those who gave advice had no idea how many wind and solar energy companies were in the pipeline.

Partly, that is the result of archaic National Electricity Rules that bring a premium of confidentiality. As Simon Taylor from Powerlink described the situation on Thursday, he might have some six different developers enter the office to ask for connections to a promising part of the network. He knew that a development could be fine, but six would be a MLF and intercity train crash.

Yet he could not suggest that they all come together to work it out, or even advise them about competing ideas, because the rules prevented him. Powerlink, which manages the Queensland transmission network, has asked the market auditor, the AEMC, to make a change of rules to enable him to do so.

And the networks themselves were not prepared. Taylor admitted that Powerlink had not anticipated the "system strength" problems cascaded by the system.

  • "Did we see it early? No. Could we have arranged it better? Yes. "Taylor told the large-scale solar forum in Brisbane on Thursday. He even admitted that the network operator did not even have its own modeling known as a PSCAD (design for computer-assisted systems) to match that of aspiring developers. It had to go to Canada to find the expertise needed.

Those problems with system strength have been reinforced throughout the network. New guidelines that reinforce the mantra that new projects "do no harm" to the grid have raised the thresholds, as well as new performance standards for generators introduced in February, allowing developers to invest more in modeling and additional equipment such as synchronous condensers. capacitor banks and more inverters.

For example, the Kiamal solar farm in north-west Victoria will have to spend tens of millions of dollars on a "syncon" to ease connection problems. The Finley solar yard in Queensland was told the same thing, just a few days before he expected to sign a liaison agreement. Again, transparency was a problem.

"We had no visibility of studies that ran the network operator and AEMO, "said Catriona McLeod, from Esco Pacific, the project developer." We suspect that the network operator did not fully see the AEMO studies. "In the end, they worked out a compromise, but others solar energy projects are affected by the same request.

Other solar farms such as Tailem Bend (and many others) have had to effectively reduce their expected capacity due to system strength issues and new rules that require solar farms to provide sufficient "reactive power".

That meant that the Tailem Bend solar farm, focused on 108 MW, was rated at 95 MW. Other solar farms are also downgraded or have had to invest in more inverters or capacitor banks to meet the requirements.

One of the new requirements that emerges is that for & # 39; harmonic filters & # 39;, which can also require expensive equipment such as capacitors. Some solar and wind farms have refused access completely or are limited by a maximum of 50 percent, unless they adapt their installations to the satisfaction of the local network owner.

It is thought that the Silverton wind farm, near Broken Hill, a 200 MW plant that was supposed to be completed in the middle of last year, is the victim of this new standard. It runs barely half its capacity.

Then there are the ongoing problems of curtailment, although its magnitude has fallen dramatically and was barely 1.6 percent in the last quarter in the most affected state, South Australia.

To conclude all this, some new projects simply cannot connect.

This card by Transgrid, which is part of the entry to the AEMO Integrated System Plan, is illustrative. It notes that there are nearly 40,000 MW in demand from aspiring wind and solar farm developers. It simply cannot all be managed and in some areas there is no new capacity while in others there is only a limited capacity.

And if strict new connection requirements and the lack of network capacity are not sufficient, there is also the issue of policy and the lack of a coherent plan. That can be resolved after Saturday's federal elections, but if the coalition retains power, the uncertainty remains.

Labor will offer much hope with the 50 percent renewable energy target for 2030, probably through a series of auctions from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and through the National Energy Guarantee. But even a 50 percent target reflects a significant slowdown in activity last year and an expansion of just over 1 GW per year of new wind and sun in the next decade.

The only wild card could be the ability to use renewable energy certificates as carbon offsetting by the 250 large companies covered by the safeguard mechanism, an important part of Labor's emission reduction target for an emissions reduction of 45 percent. If that comes as a plan, it can lead to a new boom of wind and solar energy projects, if the problems with connection and commissions are solved.

Many solar energy projects look for the business market to secure their investments by signing long-term power draw contracts – but while some are being written, there are too many projects for too few PPA offers.

And, as RenewEconomy announced last month, some new contracts impose stricter requirements, forcing solar farms to shut down – and sacrifice production – if the market price falls below zero.

This happened in April with the two large solar farms in South Australia. And for those who go for the "trader" spot price, the growing "duck curves" (when operational demand falls in the once lucrative daily market) cause income uncertainty and this is reflected in financing costs.

Ironically, the prices of the swimming pool are rising and even the certificates of certificates for renewable energy are increasing their sharp decline due to delays in construction, connection and commissioning.

Some issues may be resolved by adding technology, such as battery storage. But even this is not easy – archaic rules in the market actually prevent wind and solar energy companies with batteries acting as the one installation. That adds duplications, extra costs and greater complexity. And many of the assets of a battery are still not recognized or valued by the market or regulators.

As Kane Thornton, the head of the Clean Energy Council, described on a large-scale solar forum in Brisbane on Thursday: "It is very clear that we are introducing our modern advanced technology into a grid designed for the last century.

"It is reasonable to say that we are catching up …. (industry and institutions) were not prepared for this type of project pipeline."

Or, as Ian Christmas, the head of engineering at Edify Energy, described the ups and downs of the connection and commissioning process: "It's like a game of snakes and ladders."

AEMO, whose responsibility it is to turn on the light, feels that it is entangled at this intersection, between developers who want to switch quickly and accelerate the transition, and controllers and controllers moving at glacier pace. And the fact that when the lights go out, the goat stops.

AEMO says it does everything it can, and under CEO Audrey Zibelman there has clearly been a cultural change that has yet to be embraced by other institutions, and it points to the Integrated System Plan as a blueprint to unlock roadblocks.

"Look at the ISP, AEMO is trying to take the lead and lead," AEMO chief engineer Greg Elkins told the forum on Thursday. "AEMO does not write the rules. We carry the rules as much as the industry."

AEMO has said it is looking for solutions to the way MLF & # 39; s are imposed and is committed to addressing bottlenecks in South Australia. This is acknowledged by the industry, amidst a few grumbles, noting that the ISP is likely to prepare a clean energy transition plan that is much more ambitious than what is currently being discussed by large parties.

But at the moment it is not fast enough for many frustrated developers of sunflower parks. "What we're going to see is a pause," said Morgan Stanley analyst Rob Koh, before adding that one good thing to a pause button "is that you can always use the play button again."


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