Australia’s power system is set to become the most decentralised in the world as the steady rise of households and businesses investing in renewable energy options is leading to increase use of distributed generation and less reliance on centralised large generators.
University of Tasmania School of Engineering Associate Professor Evan Franklin said there were currently about 50,000 batteries in Australian homes, where two or three years ago there were practically none.
“Australia, in fact, already has one of the highest percentage of households in the world with solar photovoltaics [PV] on house rooftops, even Tassie already has about 15 per cent of dwellings with solar PV on their roof,” Associate Professor Franklin said.
“There has been a steady increase in the uptake of PV systems as they become more affordable. Projections are one in five households will have a battery installed in the next 15 years or so.
“The whole power system is changing as we are getting more power from solar, wind and distributed PV generation on roof tops, which means we rely less on coal-fired power plants and hydro generators to operate and help balance the system.”
Associate Professor Franklin said there were many advantages of decentralised energy systems.
“Largely the growth of distributed energy is being driven by consumers themselves, because in most cases it simply costs less to generate energy on your own roof from solar panels than to buy it from the electricity retailer,” Associate Professor Franklin said.
“It also provides more certainty and buffers for them against rising electricity prices.
“It allows consumers to gain a degree of autonomy and control over their own energy use, and in some cases can also provide them with some degree of security against blackouts.
“Energy is generated close to where it is used and so losses and the use of the electricity network can thus be reduced.
“For the network itself, it can help manage growth of load on the network and thus minimse costly investment in largely and often unnecessary new infrastructure.”
Associate Professor Franklin is the lead researcher of a $1.8 million study into the potential for home battery systems to balance the supply of electricity.
Australian researchers will work with industry and international partners to develop the functionality of devices, such as home battery systems, to mimic the role large generators play in helping to balance the supply of electricity.
“As we increase electricity production from small generators we operate fewer conventional large generators. These large generators currently play a critical role in balancing the electricity system on a second-by-second basis, and so we need to find a way to replace, or even improve on, that functionality,” Associate Professor Franklin said.
Associate Professor Franklin said the challenge with home batteries was that is it more complex to coordinate thousands of generators and energy storage devices, compared to coordinating just a handful of large power stations.
“The flexibility of the new distributed technologies can be turned to an advantage, and used to solve some of these complex problems,” Associate Professor Franklin said.
TasNetworks network innovation team leader Andrew Fraser said the company sees a future where Australia’s growing fleet of distributed energy resources will play a major role in helping the system remain in balance.
“That won’t happen without intelligent coordination to ensure they operate within the physical electricity network limits at all times,” Mr Fraser said.