The CEC's Technology Testing Survey assessed industry perceptions of the benefits and need for enhanced Australian quality management frameworks in the shape of testing and certification of commercial-scale embedded generators.

The challenge

Australia's electricity distribution industry is reaching the point of needing to build capability and investment in new technologies and quality control frameworks due to the increasing penetration of inverter-based energy systems and demand-side management (DSM) solutions.

The response

The CEC's Technology Testing Survey assessed current perceptions of the performance of small-to-medium-scale inverter-based energy and demand side management systems (generally rated between 100 kW and 5 MW) against the technical requirements of the network. It also evaluated the need for enhanced domestic quality management frameworks, and then considered the feasibility of and design principles for such a framework in the context of Australia’s electricity markets.

The Technology Testing Survey undertook substantial consultation with key stakeholders and identified a number of benefits and established broad support for the development of a testing and compliance framework.

Outcomes for various industry stakeholders

The main benefits expected from a testing and compliance framework would be to:

  • Promote technical consistencies and clearer definition of the responsibilities of the parties involved.
  • Promote efficiencies in connection processes in terms of feasibility, technical assessments and connection procedures, leading to more efficient market outcomes.
  • Establish clear and consistent equipment performance requirements enabling suppliers to focus product development, leading to lower equipment costs.

The report also identified significant design challenges which must be addressed in the detailed design process. These changes are non-trivial and would require further work to resolve. The following industry stakeholders should consider what this means for them:

  • The survey findings identify the benefits of and acknowledge support for enhanced testing and certification procedures, similarly to those already in place in other countries, from suppliers of small-to-medium-scale inverters. Importantly, the work outlines what further work is needed to establish these arrangements and encourages cooperation between all parties to do so. This future work would benefit significantly from the knowledge of the frameworks which are already considered acceptable in overseas markets. Detailed engagement with suppliers will be required to achieve this outcome.

  • The developers of small-to-medium-scale embedded generation (such as commercial-scale solar) are expected to be one of the main beneficiaries of the proposed testing and compliance framework. The opportunity to clarify and increase the consistency of technical requirements for the connection of inverters, along with the potential to streamline the technical assessment of connections would increase certainty for project feasibility assessments and reduce project costs. These stakeholders should consider how they can promote the development of the proposed framework to industry stakeholders.

  • The survey findings promote the development of a nationally consistent testing and compliance framework for these systems. It has identified a key benefit from enhanced certainty of the technical characteristics of generating plant and in-principle support from the DNSPs involved.

    A large amount of further work is needed to develop the framework, much of which would rely on input from Australia's DNSPs should it proceed. Regardless of this work proceeding, this report sets out the considerations which are likely to become a necessary part of the technical framework for the integration of embedded generation in the future. As such, this report should provide a valuable resource to support the natural evolution of DNSP technical requirements and connection processes regardless of this framework being pursued immediately.

  • The implementation of the proposed framework would require government facilitation to coordinate the various regulators and departments. It also raises an important question for governments and policy makers because its success will depend on a responsible agency or organisation to manage and monitor certification and compliance of equipment and third party testing providers. This work has been unable to identify the appropriate agency or organisation to take on this responsibility at a national level. In recognising the benefits of this framework, policy makers and governments should consider how this implementation challenge could be addressed for this purpose and whether this is a broader challenge for energy policy in Australia.

The role of this report in the FPDI program

The Technology Testing Survey fits within the FPDI project’s ‘Technical Challenges and Best Practice’ work stream which has the objective of understanding the interface and technical solutions to deliver network outcomes efficiently, and develop a whole-of-industry roadmap to addressing technical challenges for the ongoing integration of generation and storage technologies.

This work complements previous studies into the feasibility of creating a national standard for the connection of embedded generation to Australian distribution networks. Its contribution to this study includes further consideration for how an additional component, being a testing and compliance framework, could complement such a standard.