New software helps monitor how solar power impacts grid

University of Queensland

Researchers at the University of Queensland are developing software designed to monitor the impact of solar energy systems on electricity distribution networks in Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. How solar power impacts grid delivered electricity is a growing area of interest as more solar panels are installed on Australian roofs.

ARENA and industry partners will fund the ‘Solar Enablement Initiative’, a two-year, $2.9 million project. Researchers at the university’s Engineering, Architecture and IT faculties will work on the project.

The project came about due to the impact of feeding energy back to the grid from solar power systems. When the levels fed to the grid are too high, it leads to a voltage increase. This has the potential to cause tripping and temporary outages and to damage household appliances. It may also affect the distribution network’s operation.

The impact of solar energy also means networks set size limits on the installation of grid-connected PV systems.

The project’s software system applies a ‘state estimation technique’ or SEA. This is designed to enable distribution companies to better assess the impact of PV systems on their networks.

Rooftop solar: solar power impacts grid
New software developed at the University of Queensland will help monitor how rooftop solar affects electricity networks.

Project to investigate network conditions and how solar power impacts grid

The project will have several aims. These include to:

  • Enable distribution companies to better understand their networks. This should in turn enable them to plan and operate more effectively so they can maintain safe and secure energy supply;
  • Increase solar penetration, and also make it easier for customers to feed excess energy to the grid;
  • Remove barriers for customers to install larger solar PV systems – especially where connected to low or medium voltage networks; and
  • Fill the current ‘knowledge gap’ regarding integrating renewable energy generation into electricity grids.

Project outcomes: more solar PV and grid stability

According to ARENA, the project will deliver two specific outcomes. It will:

  1. Increase solar PV uptake, and also reduce the solar connection costs for customers.
  2. Examine if customers could provide useful data back to the SEA system.

Outcome 2 should help remove restrictions on exports of energy to the grid, and to improve electricity safety and efficiency.

The project’s director Professor Simon Bartlett said the project will provide benefits for customers, energy companies and the environment.

He also said it should increase our knowledge about renewable energy integration into grids and have “lasting effect” on the energy industry in Australia.

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