Australia in solar “turn-off” as demand plummets

South Australia’s transmission regulator turns off 67MW of solar power as demand drops to near-record levels due to a variety of factors.

A combination of mild weather, with large amounts of surplus rooftop-generated solar electricity feeding into South Australia’s power system, combined with low industrial demand, led to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) calling for a remote solar switch-off in early March.

More than 10,000 rooftop PV systems and some 30MW of large-scale solar generation across the region were shut down by the transmission authorities as demand dropped to near-record levels.  The action was the first time the action had been taken under the National Electricity Market’s security restriction initiative.

Demand on the day of the shut-down had fallen to 358MW (the record being 300MW in October 2020), not helped by a major regional/national interconnector undergoing planned maintenance. With a need to ensure minimum synchronous generation at 400MW, the order was given to turn off a significant amount of the region’s roof-top output.

As highlighted by Fundamentals last year, Australia faces a serious challenge in managing its grid as domestic and industrial PV installations rise exponentially, with legislation mandating the use of registered agents to assist in ensuring network and transmission security and the introduction of a Distributed Energy Resources (DER) database. 

As a result of the low demand, these agents were called upon by the likes of ElectraNet and South Australia Power Networks (SAPN) to help implement the shutdown – particularly from domestic properties. Other larger networks, such as SAPN’s enhanced voltage management system and the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition control systems, were also called upon to assist.

According to an AEMO spokesperson: Minimum demand events will become increasingly common throughout Australia as we continue to integrate rooftop PV installations”, adding that the organisation is working with legislators, regulators, marketers and consumers to establish measures that will allow increased renewable energy into the Network.

However, as previously highlighted, balancing the increasing popularity of PV systems with volatile energy demand will take innovation in areas such as distribution and voltage control as well as highly-accurate data monitoring.