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The biggest barrier to microgrids

Posted on April 3rd, 2018 in News

The establishment of viable business cases for different applications is the main barrier to the continued uptake of microgrids in Australia, according to Greg Allen, Executive General Manager, Carnegie Clean Energy.

Mr Allen has 20 years experience in engineering, specifically in business development and operational experience in the industrial plant and equipment, and solar industries. At Carnegie Clean Energy he oversees all the company’s commercialisation activities.

He said microgrids are having a major impact on the sector by improving reliability, efficiency and supporting aging infrastructure.

“They will increase the penetration of renewable energy, that’s a given, but without compromising quality and reliability of supply. So they’ll offer those alternatives, we’ll get higher levels of renewable energy penetration with the same, if not better, levels of quality and reliability supply,” Mr Allen said.

Economic drivers

 According to Mr Allen, the biggest challenge for the development and implementation of microgrids is actually establishing a viable business case for different applications, because the viability of a business case is dependent on the difference between average and peak demand in that location.

“Generally, in terms of economic drivers, there needs to be something more than just reducing the cost of supply of electricity. It needs something around a reliability improvement that ultimately has a cost, but it’s very hard to sometimes put a value on the cost of that reliability improvement.

“Microgrids have been out there on remote cattle stations throughout Australia in regional towns for many years as just a pure diesel system. The next step is making them high penetration renewable microgrids, and that’s all about justifying the business case to increase the penetration, or start putting renewables on and then increasing those penetration of renewables.”

Mr Allen said that while microgrid technology is established in the industry, it’s other factors such as regulation that has the potential to affect implementation.

“The technologies all exist and we’re comfortable with those technologies. Integrating the technologies, managing the risk of integrating technologies of the various sources of generation on the systems, is all within engineering capability, and the products exist to do that. But one of the key challenges it actually coming up with the right configuration that essentially makes business sense, as opposed to technical sense.”

Technological advancements

 Ahead of his upcoming presentation at the Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition 2018, Mr Allen said the future for microgrids involves integrating high levels of renewables, which has begun to move forward thanks to a reduction in solar costs, and technological advances.

“Battery energy storage technologies and the associated microgrid control architecture enables you to automatically dispatch and make decisions on which piece of kit is the best, which generation kit is best to dispatch at that time, and match the load in the most efficient and stable way.

“The final piece is then managing the electrical protection aspects of those systems so that you can provide the same level of safety and protection as has been afforded to those customers using traditional fossil fuel technologies. This does require some rethinking on how you provide that electrical protection, given the generation sources are moving from reciprocating or rotating machinery, to inverter-based technologies.”

 Greg Allen will be discussing these issues, and more, in his presentation at the Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition. This must-see industry event will run from 23 – 24 May at the Adelaide Convention Centre. To register for the conference or free exhibition, visit www.australianenergystorage.com.au/register.