On Monday February 14, 2022, the WA Government will introduce new requirements for solar PV and battery installations. In a nutshell, all new and upgraded solar PV and battery installations with an inverter capacity of 5 kW or less will need to be capable of being turned off or turned off remotely in the event of an emergency.
If, like thousands of West Australians, you are looking for a solar or battery storage system, you may be worried about the impact these new requirements could have on you. No need to worry though – let’s take a closer look at emergency solar management and what it means for you.
Why is emergency solar management introduced?
Before going into details, it is important to understand why the WA government is introducing these new requirements.
Solar energy is no longer the future of our energy system, it is now an important part of the present. In fact, Australia leads the world in solar installations per capita. In WA, more than 36% of households have installed rooftop solar panels, with this figure expected to rise to 50% by 2030 according to WA Energy Minister Ben Wyatt. This means that as more households harness the power of our sun to reduce their carbon footprint and lower their bills, there are new challenges to keeping our aging grid infrastructure stable.
A stable power system requires supply and demand to be balanced. Conventional grids powered by dirty fossil fuels have been built around a programmed, centralized system. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar complicate grid management because they are variable – they come and go with the weather. They don’t follow the charge very well at all; if nature provides the energy then it is there, otherwise not. You can’t run them up and down at will like you would with fossil fuel power plants.
When solar generation is high and demand for electricity from the grid is very low, power systems that were not designed to handle such variability can become destabilized and vulnerable to widespread outages.
States such as South Africa are better able to manage these fluctuations through grid interconnection with eastern states that can absorb excess solar power generation, however, Western Australia is unique in that the main network is isolated. This means that it cannot rely on other states to help maintain this balance between supply and demand.
Introducing the ability to remotely manage the level of solar power entering the grid is one of the ways WA seeks to mitigate instability and ultimately prevent the loss of electricity for customers.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to the growth of solar power, remote shutdown capabilities are actually vital to the long-term success of solar power. Grid risk management enables Western Australians to continue installing rooftop solar PV panels and supports the transition to a renewable energy system. Without this option, other solutions could include stopping the installation of rooftop solar or strict limits on rooftop solar exports.
Will my solar and/or battery installation be affected by these changes?
Okay, now you know why these new requirements are being introduced, but what do they mean for you and your facility?
According to the WA Government website, there are three main categories of customers affected by the changes, specifically those:
- install a new rooftop solar system of 5 kW or less from February 14, 2022; Where
- upgrading an existing rooftop solar system to 5kW or less starting February 14, 2022; Where
- add a battery, with your solar inverter remaining at 5kW or less from February 14, 2022;
A short grace period has been provided for applications made before February 14, 2022, but installed before March 14, 2022.
The new requirements apply only to new and improved rooftop solar – which means that existing customers will not be affected.
If you are an affected party, your installer will give you options on how your system can meet the requirements.
Further information for consumers can also be found via this information sheet.
How will remote shutdowns impact me?
The good news is that, as the name suggests, emergency solar management shutdowns will only be used in emergencies and as a last resort. Other options to protect the electrical system, including shutting down large-scale generators, will be exhausted first.
The Western Australian government has assured customers of solar energy that it should only be needed infrequently and for short periods only. In fact, since South Australia introduced similar capabilities in 2020, households have only been affected for about an hour.
If a remote shutdown is deemed necessary, the impact is shared equally between customers. You will have access to the electricity grid during this period.
Will this impact my feed-in rates or return on my investment?
Emergency solar management requirements do not affect eligibility for the distributed power buyback program.
As it is anticipated that remote shutdowns will only be required for infrequent and short periods of time, the new requirement will have negligible impact on utility bills, feed-in payments or the return on your solar investment.
In other words, you have nothing to fear.
But what about battery storage technology?
Battery storage technology is undoubtedly the ideal solution for managing excess solar power during low load events. This is especially true when it comes to large-scale batteries such as Tesla’s Big Battery in South Africa.
There are a few hurdles though, and it mostly comes down to time and money.
Battery technology is still relatively expensive and large-scale batteries currently require a two-year lead time for development, supply and installation. Although the WA government is investing in this technology and sees it as the long-term solution for grid stability, it will not solve the immediate risk to the power system.
As battery technology continues to develop and roll out across the state, remote shutdown capabilities will provide an interim solution that keeps lights on, enables continued solar growth, and eases the transition to a solar system. renewable energy in WA.
If you have questions about WA’s emergency solar management requirements, further information can be found here on the WA Government website.
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