UNSW Sydney is partnering with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and solar monitoring company Solar Analytics on a project that will provide insights into the optimal management of rooftop solar and other distributed energy resources on the broader electricity network.

The $2.2 million project has received $981,000 in funding from ARENA under its Advancing Renewables Program and will run over three years from January 2021.

Project lead Naomi Stringer from UNSW’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering says Australia’s deployment of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but there is important engineering work necessary to effectively integrate them across the power system.

“Australia is now leading the world in home solar PV installations, with more than 2.5 million systems across the country. How these systems behave when sitting on our rooftops can have material impacts on the broader electricity grid,” Ms Stringer said.

“Unexpected events such as lightning strikes and equipment failures take place every day in the power grid. Very occasionally major disturbances occur, and the ability of the overall power system to ride through and then recover is key.

“Impacts of rooftop solar can be particularly acute during disturbance events when the grid is already strained, posing new risks to power system security. However, there are also important opportunities to harness rooftop solar capabilities to help restore power system security. Despite this growing role and potential impact, there is very little data showing how solar PV behaves in the field during such events.” 

The power of data

The new project will aim to tackle the critical questions of power system security by harnessing a large amount of roof system data for analysis.  It will develop new data sets and data driven analysis techniques. Project partners will collaborate with stakeholders across the industry including inverter and battery manufacturers to investigate novel data streams.

Violette Mouchaileh, AEMO’s Chief Member Services Officer said: “The findings of this project will help us build the smarter grid we need to operate securely, safely and reliably with much higher levels of distributed generation. It’s making sure we’ve got the tools in place and can support the decisions that consumers are making to invest in these kinds of resources.”

The project findings will be used by AEMO to improve planning and operation of the grid power system. It aims to ensure that conservative measures that might adversely impact PV system owners and the public more generally are avoided. 

An integrated future for solar

Dr Jonathon Dore, Head of Product Innovation at Solar Analytics said: “Solar Analytics is dedicated to growing the rooftop solar industry to its full, enormous potential. The project builds on work we’ve been undertaking over past years to ensure solar works seamlessly with the rest of the energy system and offers an important step towards Australia’s solar future.”

Ms Stringer said: “The collaboration between UNSW, AEMO and Solar Analytics offers a unique partnership that brings together research capabilities, a strong industry need, and valuable public sector experience.”

The project will be undertaken in the Collaboration on Energy and Environmental Markets group at UNSW. It builds on previous work by AEMO, Solar Analytics and the UNSW Sydney team, including two foundational ARENA projects which have paved the way for this new project.

The ARENA Advancing Renewables Program supports projects that can enable affordable, reliable renewable energy in Australia.