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As many in the energy industry are aware, one of the greatest barriers to the rollout of renewable energy and hybrid projects has been issues with grid connection. In early 2020, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) brought together some CEC members, network service providers (NSPs) and other industry stakeholders to address concerns with the delays and the increasing complexity in connections.

What was clear out of those conversations was the need to develop a range of solutions to address the systemic concerns involving all parties in the connection process. It is vital that improvements are made to the connections process to ensure the system can safely and securely take on the high number of large-scale renewable energy projects that are and will continue to register to connect to Australia’s power systems.

We have now jointly established the Connections Reform Initiative that aims to work through a range of the complex issues to improve grid connection.

What is the Connections Reform Initiative?

The initiative is a joint project by the CEC and AEMO and involves CEC members, NSPs and industry and market body representatives, including the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC), Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and the Energy Security Board (ESB). Together, we are working towards the following objectives:

  • a consistent and predictable connections process that delivers repeatable outcomes
  • reduce re-work and improve efficiency and quality of information to address information asymmetry
  • create a collaborative working model between industry, AEMO and the NSPs

Neil Gibbs (from Online Power) was appointed as an independent facilitator to bring structure, rigour and objectivity to the process.
This is a vital initiative to further alleviate roadblocks our industry is facing and allow for the continued growth of large-scale renewable projects.

Leadership Group

The Connections Reform Initiative is being led by the following industry figures:

  • Deion Campbell, Tilt Renewables
  • Tony Chappel, Australian Energy Market Operator
  • John Cole, Edify Energy
  • Anna Collyer, Australian Energy Market Commission
  • Peter Cowling, Vestas
  • Werther Esposito, Enel Green Power
  • Kane Thornton, Clean Energy Council
  • John Titchen, Goldwind Australia
  • Mark Twidell, Tesla
  • Rachel Watson, Pacific Hydro
  • Alex Wonhas, Australian Energy Market Operator

Progress to date and next steps

Associated work contributing to the new Connections Reform Initiative commenced in February, helping identify five key priority areas:

  1. Appropriate data and information symmetry
  2. Confidence in when a project is bankable
  3. Complications and delays during registration and commissioning
  4. Anticipating the system of the future, and building for it today
  5. Availability of skills and capability to support all parties across all stages of the process (i.e. the human capital to make this happen).

Clusters were established to work through each of these priority areas and involves:

  • problem definition (mostly complete in the first stage of the project, but will be refined where required)
  • identifying solutions
  • solution design and implementation planning.

On Friday 4 June, an all-day digital Solutions Exploration Workshop involving more than 30 people from 20 organisations was held to consider the work already completed on the five key priority issues.

The workshop identified seven themes which will be explored in detail:

#Solution areaDescription

1

Access: standards, signals and site-based capabilities for local network conditions

Connections standards to suit local network conditions, including with clear definitions and measurement (i.e. CUO issue)

Faster connection pathways for developments which deliver needed services

OEM white listing process - a form of 'pre-approval'

2

Information: addressing information asymmetries during the connection process

Increased information visibility in the early stages of connection process, or improved communication of these; address commercial sensitivities among developers

Addressing current access restrictions on PSCAD (IP limits); OEM IP concerns and AEMO legal concerns about risk of release by making the model accessible

Perceived over-reliance by AEMO on PSCAD; option to place more emphasis on engineering common sense (judgement)

Transparency and consistency of models

Test if the requirements to use PSCAD for all developments is valid

3

Batching: batching the connections assessment process in a defined location

Mechanisms to form a 'batch' to take through the connections process, once. Mechanisms could include time of enquiry, money (e.g. a bank guarantee (bond)), technical capability or some combination

A singular process to take account of interactions, identify common solutions and gain efficiencies of assessment from commencement to Connection Agreement

4

Application quality: improve the quality of connection application packages

Increase the amount and quality of information required as part of connection applications. AEMO to provide examples of good submissions

Completeness of submission packages assessed by AEMO-authorised consultants

5

Portal: Connection Process Information Portal

AEMO and all NSPs use an agreed approach to the management of connection applications, hold data on a common technology platform hosted by AEMO and permit access (with controls) to developers. A single source of truth for all

6

Post financial close predictability: developers can proceed knowing that their GPS will not change for reasons outside their control

Defined process to introduce changes to AEMO guidelines (i.e. defined processes for consultation, change control and communication etc.)

'Grandfathering' of GPS, provided developers meet agreed development milestones

Consistent treatment by AEMO of developers during registration and commissioning

NER to enable new tech (e.g. enable BESS to readily connect BTM at existing VRE generation sites). Options for additional VRE behind existing connections might be considered later; similarly upgrades or updates to technology

539 leading to GPS issue - perceived discretion in deciding when a GPS needs to be opened

Workable (readily accessible) appeals process; explore parallels with CEC processes for installers

7

People: build power system expertise - capability and capacity - for all

A shared industry initiative to define and develop capabilities, in the appropriate capacity, required to support all aspects of the connection process in a streamlined, timely, practical, cost effective way - now, in the medium term and in the long term

Leverage expertise to apply practical engineering/technical judgement in decision making

The CEC recently invited additional members of the Market & Grid Directorate to become involved in the Connections Reform Initiative. The initiative now has more than 60 people from over 30 entities involved, including developers, most NSPs and all electricity market bodies.

Next steps

Solution clusters have been formed to address each of these areas, with detailed work scheduled to begin in the second week of July 2021. New members joining the Working Group will attend briefing sessions to explore the work to date, the work ahead and their expected contributions.

The Solutions Development Phase is expected to take four months, depending on the area under consideration. While some pieces of work can be completed more quickly, others will take further time.

Draft recommendations will then be released for broader consultation. The form that the consultation takes will vary depending on the recommendations being made. More information will be provided as work continues and the draft recommendations are developed.

This consultation period is expected to commence in Q4 2021.

More information

For Clean Energy Council members, the CEC’s Market & Grid Directorate is the primary forum where members will be kept informed on progress and have an opportunity to input into the process. If you are not already involved in the Directorate and would like to be, contact our membership team to find out more at [email protected] or 03 9929 4140.