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Can Project Symphony Put The Duck (Curve) to Sleep?

Researchers are finding ways to reduce solar curtailment during the day and move the power to the high-demand evening period. Batteries, particularly in concert in a Virtual Power Plant (VPP), and now teamed with larger community batteries, may be the key. Can they put the duck to sleep?

Project Symphony in Western Australia is a collaboration between Synergy, Western Power, and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) with support from Energy Policy WA. It is not to be confused with the Northern Territory project that I wrote about here. Project Symphony is a pilot taking place in Harrisdale, Piara Waters, and Forrestdale, WA.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated and republished to remedy some mistakes in the original report.

First a little history from VoxBack in 2008, a group of researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) noticed a funny-looking shape in their modeling. They were starting to take solar photovoltaic (PV) panels seriously, running projections of what might happen if PV were deployed at scale. They noticed that large-scale deployment had a peculiar effect on the electricity ‘load curve,’ the shape that electricity demand takes throughout the day. It looks like a duck!” You can view some good graphics on the topic in that article as well.

Electricity demand spikes in the morning and evening of each day. During the day, when solar performs best, demand may be low, and appear even lower as people access solar.

“As more and more solar PV is integrated into the grid, it starts dramatically suppressing net load during midday, when the sun is out. The net load curve sags in the middle of the day (like a belly) and then swoops back up when the sun goes down (like a neck). Hence the now famous duck curve.

As it is uneconomical to scale up power generation for a few hours each evening (as we are finding with the increasing process for gas), a solution had to be found.

According to modeling by Dr Gabrielle Kuiper, Western Australia’s Project Symphony could lull the duck (curve) to sleep. With the massive penetration of rooftop solar in Australia, it would be better to find a way to use it, rather than curtail it. Combine that rooftop solar with batteries and put the duck to sleep. This would certainly be cheaper than upgrading poles and wires.

Now, a newly commissioned community battery will be integrated into the Project Symphony pilot VPP in southeastern Perth. The Harrisdale 1.34 MW battery will store the excess power generated by the local rooftop solar systems during the day and be available for access at peak hour.

For the first time in Western Australia’s grid, a community battery will be integrated with customer-owned batteries. It is expected that this expansion of the pilot VPP will better manage the massive amount of solar available during the day in Western Australia — perhaps even put the duck to sleep. (Note that the Western Australian grid is not linked to Australia’s more populous eastern coast.)

Both South Australia and Western Australia have instigated moves to allow market operators such as AEMO to remotely manage rooftop solar systems in order to manage grid stability. These systems can be switched off if too much power is coming into the grid. It is expected that this tool of last resort will only be used for short periods of time if demand is critically low.

VPPs like Project Symphony linked to community and privately owned batteries should minimize the need for such measures. This VPP is backed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. It manages the power supply of 900 clean energy assets — solar and home batteries — across 500 households and businesses in Perth’s Southern River area. Now it has a community battery as well.

“Project Symphony’s new community battery will provide valuable insights into how we can unlock greater economic and environmental benefits…as we continue to transform the energy sector on our way to net zero,” said state energy minister Bill Johnston.

“In the face of a rapidly changing energy industry, customer’s rooftop solar systems, batteries, air conditioning and community batteries orchestrated together can play an important role in enabling the greater connection of renewables and the continued running of a secure and stable electricity system.”

AEMO’s CEO, Daniel Westerman, conceded that utility-sized renewables are not being built fast enough and that a solar rooftop could provide up to 25% of grid needs. Modeling by Gabrielle Kuiper found that “rooftop solar plus battery trading reduces the 4–8 pm wholesale market evening peak by an impressive 67–92%. In addition to this, where local ‘trading’ is made ‘frictionless’, household batteries reduce the average summer network peak by 64%.” These flows would be best facilitated by software rather than building more transmission lines.

Dr. Gabrielle Kuiper calls this putting the duck curve to sleep.

ITP renewables modeled what it would be like for the electricity system when we reach 100% DER. “We know that eventually every rooftop in the National Electricity Market (NEM) that can have solar, will. We know solar households will most likely have batteries, and potentially will be able to trade electricity easily with their neighbors. They will also be all electric, with flexible demand in the form of controlled loads able to be time-shifted, and have electric vehicles (EVs) that can charge in the daytime or overnight. We’ll also have community batteries in some form.

“The most significant finding from this fresh approach is that rooftop solar plus batteries will put the famous solar-created supply-demand duck curve to sleep.”

A sleeping duck curve means no excessive solar supply in the middle of the day (thus no curtailment) and power available in the evening, eliminator peak hour. “Across all the modeled scenarios, rooftop solar plus battery trading reduces the 4–8pm wholesale market evening peak by 67–92%.” This will have significant impacts on the revenues of traditional generators. Gas peakers will no longer be needed.

“How much and how fast the duck sleeps will depend a lot on the number and size of batteries and EVs per household and the regulations for trading this capacity. The more batteries and flexible load in the system, the greater the likelihood of a sleeping duck — that is, a flatter grid demand/supply curve.”

As one of our readers commented: “Amazing. Norway is the proving ground for an EV future, and Australia will show the world how clean, decentralized power the future is. But it is a tough time for decision makers.” Time to tune the orchestra and put the duck to sleep.

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