• Mel Mercer-Royce

Part 1: Same same, but different!

Australia and the UK grappling with the rise in DER

I have recently returned to the UK and joined KrakenFlex after nearly nine years living in Perth, Western Australia. There I worked for a company called Western Power – the distribution (Dx) and transmission (Tx) operator, operating a network in one of the most isolated places in the world, with a population of just over 2 million but covering a land mass the size of the UK!

Living in Perth was bonza! According to the Bureau of Meteorology, it enjoys 147 sunny days, and 121 partly sunny days – which is more than any other Australian city. No wonder one in three residential customers now have installed solar PV on their properties (equating to >1MW being installed a week). According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) Wholesale Electricity Market Electricity Statement of Opportunities - behind-the-meter installed PV capacity is anticipated to rise to 4,069MW by 2030/31.

The uptake in solar PV has far exceeded any other source of generation in the system, and this was predominantly stimulated by the government's incentive scheme. Initially in 2010, residential customers could be paid 40 cents per kWh for their excess solar, and as such, encouraged the vast majority of Aussies to go and put some on their roof (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1 – Installation of rooftop solar in Western Australia

Source: Australian Government “Clean Energy Regulator”

This was then rolled back from 2011 onwards to 7 cents per kWh which deterred a lot of customers from installing the systems. But as technology advanced, and systems became cheaper, the payback period reduced and customers began putting solar on their rooftops again.

So how is this the same as the UK? Although the UK does not quite experience the same levels of sunshine (the MET expresses total sunshine in hours not days – which kind of says it all!!), distributed energy resources (DERs) are on the rise. For generation DERs, this is essentially moving the source of generation onto the distribution network, as opposed to traditionally at a centralised power station connected to a transmission network. These could be electric vehicles (EVs), Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS), wind turbines, or even heat pumps.

The UK has more than 14GW of installed solar PV, and over 20GW of wind capacity installed across the country. EV sales are set to rise across the UK as automakers push to comply with CO2 regulations, with EV sales in the UK forecasted to equate to 31% of the passenger vehicle market by 2025.

Figure 2 - EV share of UK passenger vehicle sales

Source: BloomberNEF Long-Term Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021

With the drive to electrify the economy by moving away from fossil fuels to achieve net-zero, the rise in DER is set to take off. The price of these technologies are reducing – Bloomberg New Energy Finance cites that lithium-ion batteries have fallen 89% in the last ten years, which equates to over a third of the price of an EV. Onshore wind is set to reduce by ~37%, and utility-scale PV by ~57%.

But with these new technologies come new challenges, and the fluctuations and stability of the grid is becoming more heightened and frequent. In part 2 of this series, I will explore how DER is impacting the grid, and finally, what could be done to tackle this.

So irrespective of if you live in Australia or the UK, the race is on to increase renewables and make energy usage more sustainable, maintain grid stability, but still affordable for all!

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