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Managing the complexities of Australia’s energy transition

Natalie Filatoff
August 12, 2019

Australia’s vast renewable-energy resources and government plan to support investment in renewables, starting with the Renewable Energy Target enacted in 2001, have led to unprecedented changes in the flow of electrons through the country’s grid infrastructure.

A grid designed to support one-way traffic of power from large coal-fired generators through transmission and distribution networks progressively sized to suit receiving communities has become a reluctant two-way street. Utility-scale energy generated in regional areas rich in wind and solar resources, but often distant from the most power hungry city centres, now demands carriage on a largely 50-year-old system never designed as a two-way street.

“What that means is complexity,” says Jett Winter, global leader of GE Digital Energy Grid Analytics, who is among a number of GE Power’s domain experts bringing world insights and best practice in grid management to Power ± Utilities Australia this week.

Beth LaRose, general manager of GE Energy Consulting, is here to establish a local team of electric-power-system specialists, focused on “solving those very complex technology-economic problems and supporting our customers and stakeholders in Australia to become leaders in the large-scale integration of renewables”.

The elements of a secure, least-cost renewable future

LaRose has mentally packed a deployable kit of battery energy-storage systems, pumped-hydro technologies, synchronous condensers and ultra-fast-start aeroderivative gas peaking plants, alongside the digital tools that have allowed her to model how such investments can most cost-effectively combine and deliver for a reliable renewable future.

Her currently 120-strong global team has enabled many countries and US jurisdictions to smooth a path to transition. In the APAC region, LaRose says she’s especially proud of the team’s work in Vietnam, a country with ambitious renewable energy plans and which in 2019 alone has so far successfully added 1.5 GW of utility-scale solar to its capacity.

“In 2013-14, we worked on a US Trade and Development Agency-funded renewable-integration study into the integration of renewables for Vietnam, and helped outline grid-code modifications that addressed some of the operational considerations that you have as you add more variable energy resources,” she says. “We assessed not just the transmission network, but how to interconnect Vietnam calls communities anchored by large industrials.

“Our work enabled the integration of increased renewable capacity into the grid because regulators and operators were able to identify and cope with the accompanying challenges.”

In Australia, GE Power deploys more than one hundred professionals in distinct but complementary areas that are well appreciated in the Australian energy landscape. GE Renewable Energy for example, has more than 1.6 GW of wind-farm capacity either in operation or under construction, and 4.5 GW of hydro capacity. GE Grid Solutions software helps manage the operations of almost every Australian energy utility, and transmission and network services provider; and its market management tools are embedded with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). GE Gas Power has more than 6 GW of gas-turbine generation installed around the country.

A battery of opportunities

As part of the Power ± Utilities offering, Navin Subash, Senior Product Manager for GE Gas Power in the APAC region, has written a prescient white paper on the role of Peaking Plant Applications in increasingly renewable-reliant energy systems (download it here). It comprehensively outlines the state of power play in Australia — the challenges and opportunities — before honing in on South Australia as a world leader (already at 45% renewable generation) and therefore real-time test scenario. The white paper then discusses the grid-firming pros and cons of super-responsive GE aeroderivative gas turbines and battery-energy storage systems (BESS).

Spoiler alert: in an energy marketplace that does not yet fully value and support investment in grid-scale batteries, hybrid solutions to grid firming come out on top in Subash’s analysis. He writes, “peaking and grid-firming plants with fast-start capabilities, complemented with batteries offer the most efficient renewable-energy firming and peaking solution currently available”. GE Gas Power’s own LM600 Hybrid EGT offers 50 MW + of greenhouse-gas-free contingency reserve, flexible capacity and peaking energy.

While Subash may have arrived at an optimal solution for the current energy marketplace, Garry Dodd, business relationship manager for Grid Solutions, GE Renewables in Australia and New Zealand, will present insights into the stand-alone and hybrid applications of Renewable Energy Storage.  With ever reducing battery prices and marketplace rules in a constant state of adaptation to new conditions and technologies, the more widespread deployment of battery systems is highly anticipated.

Dodd’s expertise encompasses commercial and technical modelling of battery benefits, grid compliance and coordinated control of hybrid systems.

The incredible lightness of machine learning

Compared to his hardware-heavyweight colleagues, Winter has packed light for his appearance on the Power ± Utilities Digital Transformation Theatre stage — but Winter’s software suite capitalises on 127 years of OEM kudos in the Power sector, and leverages first-mover advantage in sensor-based grid analytics.

“The wow factor is in the AI and machine-learning side,” of GE Digital Energy’s three reliability- and performance-boosting packages, says Winter. He continues, “Some market participants are spending millions of dollars trying to figure this out on their own — everyone wants to move to more predictive capabilities — but I’m here to tell you it’s done, it’s available.”

Launched in June this year, GE’s Storm Readiness, Network Connectivity and Effective Inertia solutions are designed to alleviate the transformative pressures on the power industry, says Winter.

The seemingly most obvious pressure on the industry is grid transition. One consequence of retiring coal-fired generators in favour of increasing levels of variable renewable generation is the displacement in the system of inertia provided by the spinning reserve of big thermal energy plants. Data gathered and processed by Effective Inertia enhances visibility over inertia in the transmission system, and uses machine learning to predict excursions beyond the operating criteria which can then be compensated for in advance of outages.

If the most obvious threat to energy supply is not new distributed-energy sources streaming in to old-world infrastructure, what is? “Probably the biggest cause of disruption to grids is climate change,” says Winter, naming the very condition that renewable energy will help to mitigate.

Extreme heat, an increasing incidence of wildfires and intense storms can disable infrastructure old or new, along with public trust in utilities and market operators.

“Analytics can help you understand where a problem is going to occur before it occurs,” says Winter, who lives in the already fire-prone state of California, where hotter weather is increasing tinder-dry fuel load, and the five largest fires recorded since 1932 when records began have been sparked in the past five years.

“Utilities need to anticipate these unknowns, and be prepared,” says Winter. “They not only need to respond quickly, but they must be able to show the public that they’ve followed best practice.”

Winter will further explain the rationale and benefits of sensor data and analytics for grid operators in his presentation Why Grid Analytics? on August 15, and is available to talk to customers throughout the Power ± Utilities conference about how to integrate products such as Storm Readiness into their operations.

Merging new tech into a robust electron highway

“As an OEM with strong local capability and a deep understanding of the energy marketplace, we are well placed to work with customers, the network transmission operators, regulators and policymakers to support progressively greater integration of renewables into Australia’s energy supply,” says LaRose.

Her new Australian GE Energy Consulting group will undertake studies and analytics work on behalf of customers, such as studies required by AEMO in its coordination of upgrades and changes to the National Electricity Market (NEM) and the Wholesale Electricity Market (WEM) in Western Australia.

“It will allow all stakeholders to better understand how technologies will operate once they are connected to the grid, demonstrating their compliance with grid regulations and policies,” says LaRose. “Our work will also provide grid operators with the equipment model details required to inform adequate protection schemes and system operations, such as those to address fault conditions and contingencies.”

Of the co-ordinated GE Power presence at Power ± Utilities Australia, LaRose says, “We’re focused on supporting our customers and all stakeholders in the grid to reliably interconnect technology that will advance Australia’s energy transition.”

[caption id="attachment_52917" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Beth LaRose, Jett Winter, Garry Dodd, Navin Subash[/caption]