With rooftop solar forecast to grow by at least 10,000 megawatts in the next two decades across the National Electricity Market (that is roughly equivalent to 20% of all existing generating capacity), Energy Live dives into how the growth of solar is now a real disrupter - not just for AEMO, but system operators worldwide.

Consumers are recognising the benefits of solar, and increasingly taking control of their energy consumption, with one in four Australian households now installing solar panels on their roofs. To put this into greater context, in 2008 there were approximately 14,000 rooftop solar units installed across the National Electricity Market (NEM). Fast forward a decade to 2018, and we now have more than 1,700,000 units installed. Consumers typically experience lower bills as they consume less power from the grid, or are paid for exporting energy back into the grid. And these benefits to consumers are only expected to increase with the advent of battery storage.

But rooftop solar does not just reduce consumer bills. It can also provide a great benefit to the overall power system, although not without challenges.

Power systems have become more intrinsically linked with weather patterns than ever before. Not only do we have to prepare the system to meet super evening peak periods after a stretch of extremely hot weather (consecutive days of 38-40 degree weather), we now have a range of resources that are highly dependent on variable weather patterns, such as cloud cover for solar generation and wind/gust speeds for wind generation. As the power system operator, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) must always ensure the supply/demand ledger is balanced – and these variables in weather add complexities to managing the system on a daily basis. 

Our mission as the market operator is to meet the demand at all times, even when it rapidly peaks or falls away. The speedy ramp up and ramp down in grid demand requires resources that respond quickly for a relatively short duration (such as 30 minutes) – resources we currently do not have available in abundance.

However, technology solutions are emerging (such as storage and innovative software platforms) that will allow both AEMO and the networks to enable solar to become a real resource that that can be managed, controlled and used to provide pivotal power system security and reliability support when it is needed most. We are also working closely with the Energy Security Board (ESB) and our fellow market bodies (the Australian Energy Market Commission and the Australian Energy Regulator) to actively seek both regulatory and market reform to optimise the power system of today and into the future. This work is being coordinated through the ESB as part of its role in implementing key Finkel Review recommendations.

We note this is not simply an Australian dynamic. In order to maintain a smooth transition to a future that is increasingly reliant on variable renewable energy resources, market operators and authorities around the world are actively considering market design changes to support an optimal consumer facing transition.   

Stay tuned for more feature pieces on how energy disruptors can work in combination with existing resources to pave the path towards a more cost efficient, secure, low emissions energy future.