Victorian electricity distributor Powercor will spend $3 million upgrading its network in what it calls “solar hotspots”, in a four-month blitz it says will allow it to take more excess power from rooftop solar back into the grid.
Powercor, which serves 820,000 customers in central and western Victoria, is responding to growing requests from customers with rooftop solar to sell energy back to the grid.
As RenewEconomy sister site One Step Off The Grid reported here, an increasing number of households, and not only in Victoria, are coming up against strict limits to the amount of energy they are allowed to export to the grid, with many finding that they cannot export their solar at all.
The practice, called solar export limiting, has been progressively rolled out for years by network companies, who say it is needed as a way of heading off voltage stability problems in areas of high rooftop PV penetration.
But Powercor’s network has emerged as a particular problem area in Victoria, with local installer RACV Victoria telling One Step that on certain solar-heavy parts of the grid, as many as one in three installation jobs were being either heavily restricted or limited to zero.
Over the past 18 months Powercor says the number of households applying to feed solar power into its network has more than doubled, with 21 per cent of customers now generating 580 megawatts of electricity.
Booming regional demand has forced Powercor to reject many applications because the network cannot support them without compromising neighbours’ power supply.
The upgrade will cover around 50,000 customers in the Bendigo, Ballarat, Portland, Kyneton, Bacchus Marsh, Melton, Maryborough, Werribee and Hoppers Crossing areas
A spokesman for the network operator said anyone whose application had been refused should re-apply, as the upgrades – which will be completed by June – will likely change things. The table below shows the affected postcodes.
Powercor said the upgrade would “improve export capacity and reduce tripping of solar systems that can otherwise be caused by voltage issues when excess solar is exported into the electricity network.”
The work will include upgrading poles and wires “to make sure the voltage is well balanced across all powerlines” and “changing the settings on major transformers in zone substations to reduce the overall voltage levels,” Powercor said.
The company will also conduct similar work on its inner city Melbourne network, CitiPower, over the next six months, focusing on suburbs including Northcote, Brunswick, Fitzroy, Kew and Camberwell.
Rooftop solar take-up has been slower in the CitiPower network, where 5 per cent of customers are generating 50MW of electricity. Both Powercor and CitiPower are joint-owned by ASX-listed Spark Infrastructure and Hong Kong conglomerate CK Group.
It comes as the rapid growth of rooftop solar shows no sign of slowing across Australia. February was the second biggest month for rooftop solar installations on record, according to industry research company SunWiz, with a total of 285MW installed by Australian homes and businesses over the month. New South Wales led the way with 88MW of new rooftop solar capacity, compared to 71MW for Queensland and 61MW for Victoria.
As home batteries and electric vehicles also taking off, the amount of behind-the-meter generation wanting to feed into the grid will only increase, putting more pressure on distribution networks.
“In the hotspot areas, greater than one in three homes has solar connected so our program of works
is important to helping these customers make the most of their investment,” Powercor’s head of electricity networks Mark Clarke said.
“We recognise the future of energy is being driven by customer choices and we have a big role in enabling them.”
Powercor is also experimenting with microgrid technology as it adapts to the rapidly changing network. Last week it revealed it was involved in a project with C4NET two test the capacity to turn two regional Victorian towns, Donald and Tarnagulla, into microgrids.
Source: Renew Economy
Date: Mar 4, 2021