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Power granted to switch off household solar in SA to prevent statewide blackout

By Nick Harmsen, Friday June 19, 2020 - 13:31 EST

Electricity grid operators will seize the power to remotely switch off new solar panels in South Australia amid warnings the state's solar boom is putting the grid at risk of another statewide blackout.



The State Government will also underwrite an urgent $10 million investment to manage voltage in the state's power grid, after the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) warned that a voltage disturbance near Adelaide could see up to half South Australia's photovoltaic cells simultaneously switch off.

A similar mass switch-off event involving wind farms during a storm .

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) is taking legal action against the owners of those wind farms .

Releasing a report from AEMO outlining the challenges it faces in managing solar, Energy Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said SA had come close to another statewide blackout during February this year.

The state became separated from the rest of the national electricity network when storms damaged transmission lines in Victoria.



"Full credit to everybody for working together in partnership with the Government to avoid that blackout, but I tell you — it was close. It was close," he said.

"We are still at risk of another statewide blackout. We have identified the problem, we've asked for the expert advice and we have the solution."

The AEMO report outlines the challenge that SA's world-leading penetration of solar energy is now posing for the grid.

About 278,000 households — 35 per cent — have solar installed.

AEMO says South Australia is "the first large-scale power system in the world to approach zero net operational energy demand — even for very short time periods — due to high proportions of demand being met by solar PV."

"We're not very far away from the electricity going into the grid being more than the electricity being drawn out. That would create a statewide blackout," Mr van Holst Pellekaan said.



"The largest combined generator in our state is also actually an unmanaged generator in our state. And that puts us at very real risk."

AEMO makes dozens of recommendations to address the problems, to reduce the risk of SA being cut off from the rest of the grid.

The market operator also recommends that by spring, it be given the power to "shed" some solar being fed into the grid.



"We will also need, for a few hours at a time, for a few times a year, to curtail some of the solar energy that goes into the grid," Mr van Holst Pellekaan said.

"But the reason to do that is so the whole state doesn't have a blackout."

AEMO also warns it may have to limit the amount of power being imported into SA from Victoria at times, to limit the risk to the grid in the event of a mass solar panel switch-off.

"Up to a third of all of the inverters being used in SA have actually already been cutting themselves off in response to voltage changes," Mr van Holst Pellekaan said.

"Now, we weren't aware of that, others weren't aware of it, and I'll bet the householders weren't aware of that as well. So we're going to fix that."

Battery popularity could rise

The Grattan Institute's Energy Program Director Tony Wood said the changes were a result of South Australia's "enormous success" with renewable energy.

"We rushed ahead so quickly in a sense that we didn't stop and think what might happen when we get the sort of levels of uptake of solar we're seeing," he said.

Mr Wood said the decision to allow authorities to curtail solar panel output would further encourage households to install batteries.

"If you had a battery you'd be able to store your electricity in a battery when it's not worth very much and at the end of the day when it's worth a lot more you can sell it back to the grid or use it yourself," he said.



SA Power Networks welcomed the initiative, saying the change would address "very specific challenges" the state is facing.

"While we see our state's energy transformation as an exciting opportunity, South Australia has some very specific challenges in managing our electricity system due to high levels of rooftop solar generation and comparatively low levels of energy demand," SA Power Networks spokesman Paul Roberts said.

"No-one minds stopping at a red light to help regulate traffic. It's the same concept with power."

However, the Opposition's energy spokesman Tom Koutsantonis said the change would be blatantly unfair.

"It's the biggest attack on renewable energy since the election of the Abbott government. This is a declaration of war on every South Australian who has spent thousands of dollars putting solar panels on their roof," he said.

"This is a complete failure by the Government to manage South Australia's electricity system, punishing households who have spent thousands of dollars putting solar arrays on their roof just to be turned off when they need it."


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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