SA Power Networks trial to test Flexible Exports scheme

A new trial has been announced for Adelaide homes, which will limit how much power can be exported during peak periods.

SA Power Networks has announced the trial of the Flexible Exports scheme, which aims to balance the export of solar energy to the network and mitigate the increased risk of blackouts and infrastructure damage from overloading the network.

Homes will be given a choice between a fixed lower limit, and a more flexible plan which would allow them to export up to 10kW.

This comes after the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) previously announced that South Australian homes should be charged to export power during peak periods to prevent “traffic jams” on existing networks and infrastructure.

Many homes will benefit outside of peak periods, as the current export cap of 5kW of electricity to the grid will be doubled to 10kW. This would only apply to new solar customers or those who upgrade in areas with a high concentration of panels.

The trial aims to manage Adelaide’s rapid growth in the renewable sector, while also protecting the poles and lines that weren’t originally designed to handle this volume of energy travelling from homes back into the grid.

Most homes with solar panels are not expected to be impacted by the trial, as the average generation across Adelaide is between 2kW and 4kW. The trial is aimed more at new installations and significant upgrades that have more panels, generate more electricity and pose more of a risk to the existing network.

SA Power Networks general manager for strategy and transformation Mark Vincent said the trial would initially only include Adelaide, with the potential to extend across rural and regional areas in the future.

“At this stage, a few localised areas serviced by substations in the southern suburbs are most likely to be involved,” he said.

“However, over time, we plan to expand the service so that all customers can get access to flexible export limits if they wish.”

The provider could switch off solar panels in the future

The South Australian Government acted on the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) advice in 2020 and enacted a new rule that allow network providers to switch off solar panels on Adelaide homes.

This was put in place to prevent more blackouts, as the state saw in 2016, and the provider has not ruled out using that rule again. It comes after a bumper 2020, which saw South Australia become a world leader in renewable energy production, with green electricity making up over 60 per cent of its overall power consumption.

South Australia Energy Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the measures were required as the state became a victim of its success.

“[South Australia is] the first large-scale power system in the world to approach zero net operational energy demand – even for very short time periods – due to high proportions of demand being met by solar PV,” he said.

“We’re not very far away from the electricity going into the grid being more than the electricity being drawn out. That would create a state-wide blackout.”