Why is the Future Grid project needed?
The story starts more than a decade ago when the question being asked was whether or not there would be interest and uptake of renewables. The underlying assumption was that the uptake would happen at levels which meant the core operation of the grid would remain largely the same. However, uptake of renewable energy technology in Alice Springs has been particularly strong, and today the system within which the generation and delivery of energy operates in Alice Springs - the government system, the technical system, the regulatory system – has been tailored to a set of responsibilities and outcomes which are no longer consistent with the likely direction of the future energy system. It doesn’t mean the system we have is wrong, it’s just not necessarily optimised for the future. As a consequence, the requirement for a systems-level project that considers how all these factors can best work together has emerged.
Alice Solar City (2008-2013) served to drive uptake of rooftop solar. Such is the community’s ongoing enthusiasm; we now need to enable the grid infrastructure to support the continued ability for the community to install solar. There have been locations in Australia, particularly WA, where solar installations have been brought to a halt (e.g. Broome) and a move to Distributed Energy Resources (DER) is underway to enable further rooftop solar installations (e.g. Carnarvon and Onslow). In mid-2021 it was revealed Onslow had become the largest town ever to be operated (for a total of 80 minutes) on 100% renewable energy, as part of the DER project run by Horizon Power. Horizon is a Project Partner of Alice Springs Future Grid, and the Future Grid team travelled to Perth to learn directly about Horizon’s technical trials.
Another aspect to consider is that many people talk about “the market” and how it can be used to drive change. However, the energy market is a subset of the power system; it’s not the whole system. The power system includes everything that sits around that market including technical standards that determine how things are done and the regulatory framework that sets out rights and responsibilities. That system is changing because technology is driving change in the roles and responsibilities of different entities. Future Grid was a systems project seeking to determine what is the right system for the future in Alice Springs.