“Australia’s electricity system is in transition. There is no going back from the massive industrial, technological and economic changes facing our electricity system. No country is immune to the change. What distinguishes countries’ approaches to the transition is how well-prepared they are in ensuring a secure, reliable and affordable electricity system.”
-Blueprint for the Future, “The Finkel Report” 2017
2017 marks a major turning point in Australian policy for the evolution of the electricity network. For almost one hundred years, utility business has changed very little. Centralised generation and simple, one way power flow to the consumer was an easy system to monitor and develop. The 2017 Finkel report into Australia’s electricity future has shattered the view that a simple centralised generation system is viable in the future. In the wake of South Australia’s recent blackouts, Australia needs to focus on increasing system security and ensuring future reliability, reducing emissions and rewarding customers in the National Electricity Market. These goals are not simple technological challenges – they require innovation to solve. These goals have been held by Australian Switchgear manufacturers NOJA Power since their very beginning. This year is the year that goals align, and the Australian technology developed in Brisbane can be used to meet the security goals of the NEM.
The Finkel Report does remind us that today, Australia’s grid wide technology is not capable of supporting a 100% renewable generation mix. To achieve the vision for net zero emissions from the energy sector by 2050, there must be investment in technology across the entire sector. For the short term, it is important that Australia maintains security of supply through effective baseload generation from conventional sources such as Natural Gas Turbine generation. As the technology in control, communications and automation evolves, gradually the mix can be transitioned towards a greater proportion of renewable energy. This secure progression will provide Australia with the reliable energy it needs, as the technology evolves. It is of utmost importance that Australia invests in the technology development to meet our goals, as we work towards achieving the 2050 emissions targets.
There is very little argument against the importance of renewable energy in the future of Australia’s NEM, however an orderly transition to Renewable energy requires system wide distributed generation support technology. It requires switchgear with sufficient sensors, protection and automation technology to make the safe reliable connection of renewable energy sources. NOJA Power have been developing switchgear for this exact purpose for the last 15 years. The key is to provide distributed control and monitoring which allows for intelligent and responsible connection of renewable energy.
NOJA Power’s OSM Reclosers are Circuit Breakers which are installed on the Medium voltage power lines throughout Australia. These circuit breakers act like taps, able to interrupt the flow of electricity through the point when a command is sent. These OSM Reclosers also have integrated sensors, which can monitor the voltage (or electrical pressure), and current (electrical flow rate) through the device. These sensors send their information to the controller on the same pole, which is effectively an industrial grade computer. Like a mobile phone or radio, Australian utilities can talk to these devices remotely, to gather information about the electricity that is flowing through these devices.
The future of network reliability in Australia is to use this information and intelligent algorithms to allow the network to respond to changes in supply and demand. When a cloud passes over a solar array, the supply drops greatly. By using grid information and control information, we can sense the electrical pressure drop, and then tell the system to add more pressure from a different source. If the pressure gets too high, we can switch off some generation and maintain stability.
The future of Australia’s electricity security is to support the research and development which refines our ability to make this control and automation possible. NOJA Power’s OSM Recloser uses the information it gathers to allow utilities around the world to connect distributed generation such as solar and wind farms safely.
“Australia’s energy security is of fundamental importance to the continued growth and prosperity of our nation,” says NOJA Power Group Managing Director Neil O’Sullivan. “While the technology deployment is underway, it is important that we maintain system stability through our conventional generation means. With the ongoing collaboration between Australian utilities and NOJA Power, we are working to achieve the communications and automation technology required to move the energy industry to our targets by 2050.”
As a side note, NOJA Power’s reclosers are free from SF6 gas. SF6 gas used to be a common material in switchgear, which is used to make the interruption of electricity (turning off the tap under high pressure) easy. SF6 gas is over 23,000 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 – a kg leak of SF6 is the equivalent to over 23 tonnes of CO2. NOJA Power have a patented alternative solid insulation system, which removes all risk of this CO2 pollution. It’s a comfort to know that Australian utilities have already embraced this technology, with over 5000 devices installed across the country, even replacing the old high risk SF6 circuit breakers.
NOJA Power is looking forward to continuing the work with Australian utilities and the NEM to achieve the reliable, secure and clean energy future that Australia deserves.