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Five big solar farms set to increase energy output after tests

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Scott Partlin, an executive with SMA Australia which supplied inverters to the five farms, said AEMO had been working for months with generators and technology firms to have the curtailment issue resolved as soon as this Friday.

The fix was part of a “wholesale change of rules” that was needed to ensure the grid could accommodate a rapid influx of low-cost and rapidly built solar and wind farms, he said.

“If we’re going to see a renewable energy transition, this [temporary curb on supply] will not be the only time it happens,” Mr Partlin said.

AEMO’s chief system design and engineering officer Alex Wonhas said the regulator had worked with partners to solve voltage oscillations detected in the region that were “an Australian-first technical challenge”.

“If successful, [the tests] will allow AEMO to lift the constraints we had to impose and progress assessments of new generation projects in the West Murray Zone,” he said. “This will lay the foundation for an energy system that is not only delivering affordable outcomes for consumers but also making a substantial contribution to the reduction of emissions from the energy sector.”

Director of the Clean Energy Council’s Energy Transformation group Lillian Patterson said a lifting of the curtailment would be “excellent news”.

“The priority should now shift to focus on connecting the significant project backlog, some of which are ready to generate now,” she said. “In line with what AEMO has already indicated, this should be done transparently and collaboratively with industry.”

The Kerang solar farm in Victoria. As many as 18 more solar farms are in the pipeline although changes in the assessment process is likely to slow down approvals, one company executive said.

The Kerang solar farm in Victoria. As many as 18 more solar farms are in the pipeline although changes in the assessment process is likely to slow down approvals, one company executive said.Credit:Leigh Henningham

The West Murray Zone – which AEMO defines as a region bounded by Ballarat, Dederang, and Darlington Point – is not the only area with so-called system strength issues. Parts of the networks in South Australia and north Queensland face similar emerging problems, Ms Patterson said.

An executive with one solar firm who asked not to be named said AEMO had originally stated the curtailment issue would be resolved “in a few weeks”.

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The executive said the finances of constrained power plants “have been crippled”, and “their only crime was to follow through on the connection agreement” granted by AEMO. The additional electricity would also have come in handy during the recent summer when supplies were tight.

AEMO’s shift to assessing applications one by one, to avoid a repeat of creating excessive intermittent load in one part of the grid, was now holding up many millions of dollars of investment, deterring future investors.

“There are a further 17 to 18 plants that are either completed, under construction, or ‘committed’ that will undergo the sequential … registration process,” the executive said.

NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean and his Victorian counterpart Lily D’Ambrosio have both intervened in recent months to carve out special renewable investment zones to expedite the strengthening of the grid to enable faster take-up of renewable energy.

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