With some of the highest on-grid penetrations of solar PV in the world, Australian electricity consumers are now driving irreversible change. However, this change does not come without challenges and embedded generators such as commercial-scale solar PV will play an increasingly important role in the future of Australia’s electricity distribution networks.

The challenge

Remarkable growth in domestic and commercial solar PV has led to much experience being gained with connection processes across Australia. The efficiency of these processes is increasing in importance.

The diverse rules and regulatory structures across Australia lead to an array of outcomes. With significant pressure on electricity networks and generator proponents to improve information gathering is critical to understanding where opportunities lie and how efforts should be focussed.

The response

The Grid Connection Experiences survey was specifically designed to create a nationally consistent platform to engage with embedded generators and identify themes occurring across Australia. Conducted 2014 and looking back two years the survey captured a period of steep learning, aligning to significant increases in commercial-scale solar PV in some parts of Australia.

The survey report provides the most comprehensive assessment of experiences that are the result of the complex rules and connection processes that are in place across the country.

Outcomes for various industry stakeholders

The survey’s findings highlight the need for continuous improvement that can be pursued by a range of industry stakeholders:

  • Embedded generation proponents, mainly developers of solar PV projects, have made a significant contribution to this report through their survey responses. There is no doubt that connection processes are improving with experience from proponents and other industry stakeholders. There are however some important points which need to be kept in mind to manage risk when approaching a new connection including:

    • Anticipate uncertain timeframes to reach an agreement to connect.
    • Ensuring you have reviewed all information available from the network and have provided all information requested by the network at each stage in the process.
    • Gain an appreciation for typical connection costs by talking to the distribution network owner.
    • Anticipate that technical requirements for connection can vary, but reviewing available information and discussing this with the network owner will identify the necessary requirements early on.

    Although connection processes are rules-based a good relationship with the distribution network owners is a strong starting position.

  • The purpose of this survey was to enable industry stakeholders to develop a clearer picture of those aspects of the connection process that are the most challenging and that may require attention to address inefficiencies. Since this survey was completed experience has further improved connection processes. Continual improvement should remain a high priority. This report identifies that this can be accelerated by:

    • Focussing on improving certainty in the connection process timeframes.
    • Ensuring that information requested from and provided to generators is clear from early in the process.
    • Providing higher levels of certainty on costs for a connection from as early in the process as possible.
    • Addressing the absence of clear and uniform technical standards for the connection of mid-scale generation.
  • The purpose of the survey was to enable industry stakeholders to develop a clearer picture of those aspects of the connection process that are the most challenging and that may require attention to address inefficiencies. There is no doubt that the industry has been going through a steep learning-curve and the survey’s findings highlight the need for continuous improvement, which can be accelerated by:

    • Focussing on improving certainty in the connection process timeframes.
    • Ensuring that information requested from and provided to generators is clear from early in the process.
    • Providing higher levels of certainty on costs for a connection from as early in the process as possible.
    • Addressing the absence of clear and uniform technical standards for the connection of mid-scale generation.

    Connection processes are the result of complex rules and regulations that are in place across the country. There is therefore a continuous role for governments to engage in the development of these processes and active engagement with industry is encouraged to monitor and address these and future challenges.

  • The purpose of the survey was to enable industry stakeholders to develop a clearer picture of those aspects of the connection process that are the most challenging and that may require attention to address inefficiencies. The survey’s findings have highlighted the main pitfalls with connecting commercial scale solar to the grid. Any business thinking of going solar needs to make sure your contractor

    • Has planned for uncertain timeframes to reach an agreement to connect.
    • Has reviewed all information available from the network owner.
    • Can prepare all the information the network owner needs at each stage of the connection process.
    • Has experience with the costs to connect to your local network.
    • Has knowledge of the technical requirements for the connection of the size of solar system generator you want to your specific electricity grid.

    Although grid-connection processes are rules-based, it is important that a contractor you use is familiar with working through grid-connections with your local electricity network owners.

    If you’re thinking of going solar you should also check out the CEC’s guides for commercial solar and energy management in small business.

The role of this report in the FPDI program

This task fits within the FPDI project’s “Information Sharing” work stream which has the objective of providing a means to share ideas, resolutions to challenges, and understanding of perspectives across the diverse range of stakeholders representing different industry segments involved in the electricity distribution sector.

It gathers information on the nature of grid connection processes for generators and provides an extensive summary of the outcomes of these processes in order to inform future continued improvement of grid-connection processes and standards.