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In Western Australia, the way that we, as a State, use and generate energy is changing rapidly. More Western Australians are embracing Distributed Energy Resources (DER), such as rooftop solar PV systems and batteries, to generate and store their own energy. In fact, more than a third of residential homes and businesses in the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) now have their own rooftop solar PV systems.

Rooftop solar systems and other DER are a cleaner, more efficient way of powering your home, and may result in savings on your electricity costs. However, they can also pose some challenges to the State's electricity grid.

At Synergy, we’ve been exploring how to best meet our customers energy needs today and in the future by embracing the use of DER. This includes working to deliver some of the actions outlined in the State Government’s Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap (DER Roadmap) to help ensure that the electricity grid remains stable.

The DER Roadmap is designed to keep power system costs down and ensure an increase in the use of renewable energy, reduce emissions and contribute to a cleaner energy future. It is intended to allow Western Australians to continue to enjoy the benefits of solar without risking the stability of the power system and provide consumers with more choice.

The ultimate goal that the DER Roadmap seeks to achieve is a smooth transition into a decentralised, democratised, data-driven and low emissions power system. We’re here to guide our customers through these innovative times, so everyone can enjoy the benefits.

What are Distributed Energy Resources?

Distributed energy resources, or ‘DER’ is a term that covers smaller-scale devices that use, generate, or store electricity. 

These include rooftop solar PV systems (also known as photovoltaic or PV systems), energy storage systems such as batteries, as well as electric vehicles. They also include micro-grids, which are small electricity networks that function independently as ‘islands’ while disconnected from the main electricity grid. Micro-grids could be as small as a single building, or as large as whole sections of a town. 

Households and businesses can support their electricity requirements and could reduce their electricity consumption costs by coordinating their DER and use of appliances (such as electric hot water systems, air conditioners, pool pumps, or smart appliances).

If your home has a rooftop solar PV system or a battery, then you have DER.

How does DER work with WA’s power grid?

WA’s power system is supported by large gas or coal-fired generators. These generators ensure that there is a steady stream of power available for households to use as required – whether it’s switching on a light at night or making your morning coffee. However, these generators cannot easily be switched on and off in response to large changes in electricity demand.

Renewable energy sources, including rooftop solar systems, produce power alongside traditional generation sources such as large gas or coal-fired generators, but may not produce any power at all at night or if it’s a cloudy day.

Excess power from rooftop solar systems, that is not consumed by your home or business, flows through to the main power grid. The State's energy system was designed for one-way energy flow from traditional generators to consumers. Increasingly, the State's energy system needs to accommodate two-way energy flow, from generation sources to consumers, and from consumers to the energy grid (such as energy generated from solar systems).

In the future, it is likely that there will be significantly less reliance on the traditional power sources and more renewable generation and storage capability in the system. The purpose of the DER Roadmap is to help facilitate this transition and ensure the energy system is robust and stable so Western Australian energy consumers benefit.

Advantages of DER

There is growing interest in household battery storage and in a few neighbourhoods in WA, we are already trialling community batteries. As energy storage becomes more and more common, being able to store electricity when demand is low then draw from this when demand is high may provide cost benefits to those consumers and help relieve demand surges in the grid.

The increased uptake of DER will also allow the implementation of smarter, more environmentally-friendly ways to create, distribute and store electricity. In short, DER, such as rooftop solar systems, are a greener way of powering your home or business. They can also lead to savings on your electricity costs if you consume the solar energy as it’s produced.

It is envisaged that in the future, DER will open up the potential for customers to sell or trade any excess energy they generate.

Disadvantages of DER

Solar generation is great, but it’s also intermittent, which means its output can drop quickly when there is cloud cover or when the sun goes down. This is because solar panels only generate energy when the sun is shining. Although people across WA are making the most of the benefits of solar, almost everyone still needs to access electricity from the grid at times.

Due to the way the system works, there is potential for instability, with the system needing to cope with the extreme changes in demand across different parts of the day. At times when demand for electricity from the grid gets extremely low, it becomes challenging to keep the power system stable. This fluctuation in supply and demand is often explained using a concept known as the Duck Curve. If this instability is not addressed, it could lead to WA experiencing blackouts. 

Western Australia isn’t the only place facing these challenges, but the risks are greater due to the State's high uptake of solar and our sunny environment. Synergy is working alongside the State Government and other partners to facilitate WA’s energy transformation, guided by the DER Roadmap.

The DER Roadmap

The DER Roadmap is a set of actions that has been developed by the Western Australian Government and outlines a 5-year path to achieving an energy future where DERs are integral to a safe, reliable and efficient electricity system.

This plan will act as a guide to ensure that WA is addressing the opportunities and challenges related to how we produce, manage, and consume electricity. At Synergy, we’re exploring an exciting range of energy pilots and programs to provide on-going support for WA’s future energy needs.

You can read more about the DER Roadmap on the Brighter Energy Future website.

What does the DER Roadmap mean for me?

The purpose of the DER Roadmap is to allow WA to harness more renewable technology – like batteries and electric vehicles – in a way that will benefit WA households and businesses.

The DER Roadmap will assist in enabling WA to develop a smart, flexible, and integrated electricity system that:

  • Keeps power system costs down
  • Reduces emissions and helps to contribute to a cleaner energy future through the use of more renewable energy
  • Provides the benefits of solar power without risking the stability of the power system
  • Supports an energy system that provides Western Australian consumers with more choice

As milestones along the DER Roadmap are met, more households and neighbourhoods will rely less on the network and traditional generation sources - essentially becoming their own power stations. Smart tools will determine when it’s best to sell or store electricity efficiently and support a stable grid - even for people without any knowledge of energy trading. We can see a future where our customers will be able to generate and export excess solar energy to a community battery, as well as provide network and market services that they will be compensated for.

The Future of DER

Beyond the DER Roadmap, our future energy system is intended to be smart, flexible, integrated and powered by renewable generation sources - benefitting our customers and all Western Australians.

Find out more about WA’s intelligent energy future and the projects and trials underway.