AEMO has a special relationship with EirGrid, the Transmission System Operator of Ireland. Here, we talk to Noel Cunniffe, Renewable Integration Lead in the Operations, Planning and Innovation department at EirGrid, about the growing partnership between our two organisations.

Welcome to Energy Live. Aside from energy, I understand there is something unusual that AEMO and EirGrid have in common?

Well, not only do we both ensure a secure supply of electricity to consumers in both of our countries, but we have a joint interest in AFL! I’m sure AEMO has lots of passionate AFL supporters who may have seen the recent International Rules matches in which the best AFL players take on Ireland’s best Gaelic Football players in a combination of both sports. EirGrid sponsored the Irish team for this year’s games…it was a pity about the result but we’ll see if you are as lucky in Dublin next year!

Can you tell us about your role before we go into more detail?

I am responsible for leading a team of engineers to identify and solve operational challenges seen at high levels of non-synchronous renewable generation, and enabling higher levels of renewable generation on the Ireland and Northern Ireland power system.

How did the relationship with AEMO and EirGrid start?

AEMO contacted the Irish Transmission System and Energy Market Operator, EirGrid, to discuss how we’re dealing with challenges around integrating wind generation into our system. We invited one of your employees, Dr Jenny Riesz, to come to Ireland, and gained a lot of knowledge over her two-week visit. From there we decided to carry on the relationship and I flew down to Australia to continue our joint learning.

What are some of the main challenges we’re seeing in both Ireland and Australia?

Both of our organisations have been working hard to integrate large amounts of renewable energy into the existing energy system. Wind power in Ireland is a major source of energy for the nation. This has created many of the same challenges which Australia has been seeing in areas like managing system frequency and voltage. Bringing lots of wind and solar generation online introduces problems with a lack of inertia, ramping and voltage control capability on the system. This occurs because wind and solar generators are fundamentally different to the traditional coal and gas generators which they are replacing. EirGrid has put a lot of time into understanding and combatting these issues, which we have been able to share with AEMO and develop our joint understanding a bit more.

What is EirGrid interested in learning about Australia’s energy systems?

We’re really eager to learn how AEMO is managing solar integration and specifically rooftop solar. Ireland hasn’t seen a significant uptake in rooftop solar yet as it doesn’t make as much economic sense for consumers. However, in the next few years, it is likely Ireland will be seeing a government subsidy and, as soon as it does, we’re expecting a rapid amount of growth for rooftop solar. Even without a subsidy, the costs are dropping all the time and we need to be ready for when they reach a point that it makes sense for consumers. EirGrid is really hoping to learn more about the standards that AEMO has implemented for solar energy, and the challenges AEMO has faced in implementing those standards before it becomes a system issue.

What does the future hold for EirGrid and AEMO?

Many good things I hope! I’ve met with a lot of people in AEMO’s Operations, Planning, Stakeholder Relations, and Media and Communications teams, and I’ve seen how beneficial it would be to collaborate further. Energy is a global issue and climate change is a global challenge, so we’re all going to need to pull our weight to solve it.