From 1 July 2014 Queensland’s two state-owned electricity network companies, Ergon and Energex, will jointly implement new standards for new solar system owners seeking to connect to the grid. The guidelines have been developed as an answer to issues that have arisen as the number of solar PV systems in the state has skyrocketed in the past few years.
There is now close to 1 gigawatt (GW) of distributed solar capacity installed throughout Queensland (collectively making it the state’s 6th largest power plant), and the popularity of the technology continues despite the lack of strong government-backed feed-in tariff incentives. Although the new standards also apply to other small-scale generation units such as micro-wind and micro-hydro, it is mainly the uptake of solar PV that have necessitated the changes.
The network companies’ decision to introduce the guidelines is grounded in concerns about safety and grid stability. The export of electricity to the grid by distributed generation units–especially those above a certain size–is a relatively new phenomenon, and grid infrastructure is not yet equipped to deal with their current level of proliferation.
In short, Energex and Ergon are looking to curtail the amount of electricity being fed into the grid by distributed energy systems. This is not necessarily a bad thing for solar homes & businesses, as exported solar (which will earn the system owner only around a 6-8¢/kWh credit on their power bill) is worth less than self-consumed solar (which will save a system owner in the range of 25¢/kWh by eliminating the need to purchase from the grid). The more of their solar electricity they can use themselves, the more money solar customers will save on power bills.
The key feature of the new guidelines is, accordingly, additional rules surrounding grid connection for distributed generation systems with a capacity of over approximately 3kW or 5kW. Importantly, if a system is installed with a 100% export control device which is compliant with the relevant standards (most crucially standard AS4777 for inverters), there will be no need for the system to undergo a full assessment. For systems that will export to the grid which have a capacity of around 3-5kVA or higher, reactive power control settings will be required. Energex also notes that energy storage devices will be allowed provided none of their power is exported.
The implications for Queensland’s solar industry are significant, as many new solar customers are likely to want to avoid assessments if possible and cost-effective. This could make the state the country’s biggest market for export control, multi-function energy management and energy storage devices. Nigel Morris of Solar Business Services recently touched on the topic in an article, at the end of which he invited manufacturers of such devices to give their pitch in the comments, prompting a torrent of responses.
The number and prominence of developers of devices which control power export quality and volume has grown steadily in the last year or 2 as they have become necessary in some regional parts of the country. The first instance that Solar Choice documented was Magellan Power‘s introduction of a ‘solar smoothing’ device to improve export power quality on electricity from solar systems on Western Australia’s Horizon grid; the company has since also introduced its own export control device. RESA was the next to hit our radar, with its offering of a more comprehensive ‘hybrid’ energy management unit called the VoltLogic. The VoltLogic has since gone live in a number of demo projects and has been approved for grid connection across the country. More recently, we have also written about GNT Engineering’s zero export device, the ZED 1, which offers a simple, no-frills way to prevent solar feed-in.
The new Queensland standard is likely to instigate a rapid change in the way that homes think about and use solar power in the state. It could also result in a greater rate of ‘grid defection’–where solar customers leave the grid altogether–as RenewEconomy’s Giles Parkinson recently highlighted.
© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd
James holds a Master's degree in Environmental Management from the University of New South Wales. and an undergrad degree in philosophy from Bridgewater State University in his native Massachusetts. He has a keen interest in developments in the renewable energy field, with a focus on distributed solar and energy storage.
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