On Monday, February 14th 2022, the WA government will be introducing new requirements for solar PV and battery installations. In a nutshell, all new and upgraded solar PV and battery installations with an inverter capacity of 5kW or less will need to be capable of being remotely turned down or switched off in emergency situations.
If you, like thousands of Western Australians, are in the market for a solar or battery storage system, you might be concerned about how these new requirements could impact you. No need to worry though – let’s take a closer look at Emergency Solar Management and what it means for you.
Why is Emergency Solar Management being introduced?
Before we get into the details, it’s important to understand why the WA government is introducing these new requirements.
Solar energy is no longer the future of our energy system, it’s now a significant part of the present. In fact, Australia is the world leader in per capita solar installations. In WA over 36% of households have rooftop solar installed, with this figure expected to jump to 50% by 2030 according to WA Energy Minister Ben Wyatt. This means that while more and more households are harnessing the power of our sun to reduce their carbon footprint and keep their bills down, there are new challenges for maintaining the stability of our aging network infrastructure.
A stable power system requires supply and demand to be balanced. Conventional grids powered by dirty fossil fuels were built around a scheduled and centralised system. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar complicate management of the grid because they are variable — they come and go with the weather. They don’t follow the load very well at all; if nature provides the energy then it’s there, otherwise not. You can’t ramp them up and down at will like you can fossil fuel plants.
When generation from solar is high and demand for electricity from the grid is very low, power systems that weren’t designed to handle such variability can become destabilised and vulnerable to widespread outages.
States such as SA are better able to manage these fluctuations thanks to grid interconnection with eastern states that can take excess solar energy output, however, WA is unique in that the main grid is isolated. This means it can’t rely on other states to help maintain this balance between supply and demand.
Introducing the capability to remotely manage the level of solar energy entering the grid is one way that WA is looking to mitigate instability and ultimately prevent the loss of power to customers.
While it may seem counterintuitive to the growth of solar energy, remote shutdown capabilities are actually vital to solar’s long-term success. Managing grid risks enables Western Australians to continue to install rooftop solar PV and supports the transition to a renewable power system. Without this option, other solutions could include ceasing the installation of rooftop solar, or hard limits on rooftop solar exports.
Will my solar and/or battery installation be affected by these changes?
Okay, so now you know why these new requirements are being introduced – but what do they mean for you and your installation?
According to WA government website, there are three main categories of customers affected by the changes, specifically those:
- installing a new rooftop solar system 5kW or less from 14 February 2022; or
- upgrading an existing rooftop solar system to 5kW or under from 14 February 2022; or
- adding a battery, with your solar inverter remaining 5kW or under from 14 February 2022;
A short grace period has been provided for applications made prior to 14 February 2022, but installed by 14 March 2022.
The new requirements only apply to new and upgraded rooftop solar – meaning existing customers will be unaffected.
If you are an affected party, your installer will give you options on how your system can meet the requirements.
Further consumer information can also be found via this fact sheet.
How will remote shutdowns impact me?
The good news is that, as the name suggests, Emergency Solar Management shutdowns will only be used in emergency situations and as a last resort. Other options to protect the power system, including turning down large-scale generators, will be exhausted first.
The WA government has assured solar customers that it is expected to be needed infrequently and for short periods only. In fact, since South Australia introduced similar capabilities in 2020, households have only been affected for about one hour.
If a remote shutdown is deemed necessary, the impact is shared equitably across customers. You will have access to grid electricity during this time.
Will this impact my feed-in tariffs or the return on my investment?
Emergency Solar Management requirements do not affect eligibility for the Distributed Energy Buyback Scheme.
Since it is anticipated remote shutdowns will only be required for infrequent and short periods, the new requirement will have a negligible impact on power bills, buyback payments or return on your solar investment.
In other words, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
But what about battery storage technology?
Battery storage technology is, without doubt, the ideal solution for the management of excess solar energy during low load events. This is especially true when it comes to large-scale batteries such as Tesla’s Big Battery in SA.
There are a couple of hurdles, however, and it mostly boils down to time and money.
Battery technology is still relatively expensive and large-scale batteries currently encompass a two-year lead time for development, procurement and installation. While the WA government is investing in this technology and regards it as the long-term solution for grid stability, it’s not going to address the immediate risk to the power system.
While battery technology continues to develop and deploy across the state, remote shutdown capabilities will provide a stop-gap solution that keeps the lights on, enables continued solar growth and facilitates the transition to a renewable power system in WA.
If you have any questions about WA’s Emergency Solar Management requirements, further information can be located here on the WA government website.