The Alice Springs Future Grid project encompasses a series of sub-projects, each incorporating technical, regulatory, social and economic elements. They are designed to holistically transform Alice Springs into a robust, dynamic, renewable Future Grid. You can read more details below, but in brief, these are the areas of investigation for each of the main sub-projects:
- Sub-project 1 – Modelling:
What are the key technical challenges currently facing Alice Springs, and why? How can technical, economic and behavioural modelling develop a clear renewables plan for the power system?
- Sub-project 2 – Commercial Microgrid:
What are the regulatory and technical implications of managing a commercial microgrid, including an understanding of who carries the liabilities for supply during periods of disconnection?
- Sub-project 3 – Community Solutions:
What is the role of the community in the future grid? What new services can be provided, such as voltage and frequency control and payment for those services?
- Sub-project 4 –Tariff Reform:
How can tariff designs best be implemented to incentivise large-scale behaviour shifts?
- Sub-project 5 – Future Grid Deployments:
What platform is required to aggregate the new suite of tools for System Control, including advanced solar forecasting? How will this reduce spinning reserve, and what new (non-PV) technologies are available that were up until recently uneconomical? Ultimately, how do we reach 50% renewable energy penetration by 2030, in the Alice Springs power system?
Sub-project 1 – Modelling
In order to operate the Alice Springs grid with reduced thermal generation, it is crucial that proposed changes are accurately modelled before being enacted, to optimise outcomes and avoid failures. A PowerFactory modelling tool will be used for this purpose, to optimise next-steps as the mix of centralised and distributed generation changes over time. Financial and technical variables will be input and consumer behaviour accounted for — a factor rarely included in technical models but expected to be significant when predicting future hardware configurations. Future Grid will seek to understand what drives people and companies to invest in renewable energy technology, and what system security threshold they’re willing to accept. A separate stream of SP1 will focus on measuring the existing wind resource in Alice Springs. The cost and efficiency of wind turbines is improving and may soon be a viable option for power generation. This would be an important addition to the town’s only existing renewable resource – the sun. The modelling sub-project will be led by Alice Springs technical consultancy Ekistica. A major outcome will be clear recommendations on the approach to achieving 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030; including modelling of zero thermal (gas) generation during daylight hours.
Sub-project 2 – Commercial Microgrid
Privately operated, renewable energy microgrids will play an important role in future grids; islanding themselves when economic or operational conditions are favourable. However, the incentives for forming microgrids are limited when operating standards and regulations are not in place or too conservative. The Commercial Microgrid sub-project will be led by the owner of a newly-installed microgrid (site to be confirmed). The project seeks to determine how users (including tenants) will tolerate islanding and disruptions, identify regulatory barriers to implementation, trial a management system with the System Controller, and investigate who carries the liability for supply during periods of disconnection from the network.
Sub-project 3 – Community Solutions
This sub-project seeks to determine the role of the community in the future grid. The first task will be to understand and optimise the appetite of households and small businesses in the future grid to install batteries with their PV systems. The sub-project team will test the aggregation of those batteries as a virtual power plant, which the System Controller can utilise to manage grid stability. Community Solutions will be implemented in parallel with sub-project 4, Tariff Reform. The trial will run for 12 months, during which time the project team will actively track the performance of the systems, including the extent to which the aggregating technology provides visibility to the retailer and system operator. The significant community engagement element in this sub-project is the basis upon which the Arid Lands Environment Centre has been appointed as the project lead.
Sub-project 4 –Tariff Reform
Running in parallel with the Community Solutions sub-project, alternatives to the 1:1 feed-in tariff (FiT) will be trialled at households with batteries. Recent changes mean the 1:1 FiT is no longer available for new PV installations and a battery rebate is now offered, but testing of additional tariffs that incentivise batteries remains important. The Tariff Reform sub-project will provide shadow tariffs to customers who take part, providing financial reward if the shadow tariff proves successful. The shadow tariffs will be based on the idea that payments can be made for ancillary services provided by household batteries. Energy retailer Jacana Energy will lead this sub-project, with outcomes including a quantifiable understanding of consumer appetite for new tariff models, and the incentives needed to drive large-scale behaviour change.
Sub-project 5 – Future Grid Deployments
This multi-faceted sub-project will culminate in the delivery of a ‘Roadmap towards 2030’ report that identifies optimal pathways and timelines for achieving high renewable energy penetration on the Alice Springs grid. It will be led by Power and Water Corporation. A dynamic dispatch stream will trial the incorporation of cloud forecasting technology into the grid dispatch system, with load monitoring equipment at sites guided by the modelling sub-project. This will provide greater flexibility for System Control to minimise thermal spinning reserve. In parallel, a stream called Dynamic Export will incorporate the dynamic control of a PV system at a local school, making best use of spilt solar at times when buildings are mostly unoccupied during weekends and holidays.