“If AEMO had performed their role as the network planner properly, they would have forecast these problems occurring well beforehand, thereby avoiding pushing these projects to the economic brink after they are built.”
AEMO will hold a western Murray “technical forum” on Monday to discuss how to resolve the sector’s woes.
“The scale and pace of inverter-based (solar and wind) generation connected in electrically remote areas of the National Electricity Market (NEM) is presenting unprecedented technical issues affecting grid performance and operational stability in those areas,” a spokesman said.
“This is an emerging phenomenon that has not been seen at scale in other developed power systems around the world,” he said, adding that the issues were the result of the heavy concentration of new renewable energy plants “in an area that is weakly connected to the ‘backbone’ of the grid”.
The deliberate output cuts from solar plants was necessary “to protect the integrity” of the grid, he said.
Victoria and NSW came close to large-scale load shedding just over a week ago, when a heatwave combined with unexpected failures of units at four coal-fired power plants to erase almost all reserve capacity.
Both governments pleaded for customers to raise air-conditioner thermostats and take other power saving steps to conserve supplies. NSW energy minister Matt Kean said the consumer response shaved demand by 200MW.
Industry groups have warned that Australia is losing its appeal as investment site for large-scale wind and solar, in part because of policy uncertainty. New investment in such plants dived 56 per cent last year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported.
The industry executive noted AEMO has only publicly committed to “use reasonable endeavours to address the fault level shortfall” in the western Murray region by next January, a pace that was too slow for investors.
“Victoria will soon become uninvestable for new renewable generation as neither investors or banks will accept the ‘AEMO risk’, the executive said.
AEMO’s spokesman said the operator understood and shared “the frustration that these technical challenges are causing as Australia’s energy sector transitions towards a greater reliance on grid-scale renewable energy”.
“However, we are committed to working collaboratively and transparently to address and deliver short, medium- and long-term solutions to these Australian-first challenges,” he said. He added that the west Murray region also had some 1200 MW of committed inverter-based generation projects awaiting commission with about 3000MW in the application phase.
“Thermal and stability limits mean it will not be possible for many of these projects to connect or generate at full output ahead of significant investment in network infrastructure,” he said.
Lily D’Ambrosio, Victoria’s energy minister, said her state planned to “fight for better national rules so we can get on with our critical projects” at next months gathering COAG energy ministers.
“We’ll continue to push for transmission network upgrades and priorities like VNI West (KerangLink) which will help open up our projects in the north west and provide a vital energy highway between Victoria and New South Wales,” she said.
NSW’s Mr Kean also said the power sector was “undergoing a period of significant change, with all five of the state’s coal-fired power stations expected to retire over the coming decades”.
“That’s why the share of wind and solar in the NSW electricity generation mix has more than doubled over the past five years, with more on the way,” he said.
“The NSW government’s Transmission Infrastructure Strategy and Electricity Strategy will support new transmission development and renewable energy zones, providing significant new connection opportunities for large-scale renewable developments,” Mr Kean said.
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.