The Plug and Play Solar Power project addressed barriers to solar hybrid power system growth by developing ‘Plug and Play’ technology.
The Plug and Play Solar Power project features Hybrid renewable energy systems that combine renewable generators such as solar photovoltaics and wind together with more conventional, non-renewable sources such as diesel or gas generation.
These integrated systems will play an important role in the journey toward a lower carbon electricity system but unfortunately they currently have two key barriers: cost and technical complexity.
The Plug and Play Solar Power project was a collaboration between CSIRO, US research partner National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and multinational engineering firm ABB. The project hardware was field tested at two locations; a remote Queensland bauxite mine at Weipa, operated by Rio Tinto, with an associated PV farm operated by First Solar Weipa, and; the Pilbara Meta Maya Regional Aboriginal Corporation office, Port Hedland.
The project addressed cost and technical complexity barriers to solar hybrid power system growth by developing technology that forecasts upcoming solar energy, predicted load and the optimum response from the hybrid system.
For this project a skyward facing camera was used to capture periodic images of the sky. With the use of specifically developed algorithms, these images were turned into a short term prediction for the next 15 minutes, and decision-support software was used to provide sensible scheduling for any stored energy such as batteries, or energy production such as diesel generators. Linked with this are decisions to curtail output from solar generation as a means of smoothing any step changes in solar energy.
The CSIRO control algorithms with solar forecasts were successfully tested at the NREL test facility in Golden, Colorado and then deployed to locations in Weipa, far north Queensland and Port Hedland, Western Australia. Together, these two sites offered a great opportunity to test the performance of the CSIRO developed hardware. One site had a very large solar generation facility coupled with a town sized grid, but no storage. The other site, while smaller, offered the additional complexity of battery storage.
Analysis of data collected from the site at Weipa showed that a 97% reduction in the number of high ramp rate events can be obtained using CSIRO’s solar forecasting algorithm, down from 490 events during the test period to just 13 events. This implies that a higher penetration of solar power can be achieved without the need to upgrade the existing diesel generator set to compensate for such high ramp rate events. A reduction in high output power ramp events of the existing diesel generators is desirable as this reduces the wear and tear on the generators leading to increased time between required maintenance, which can lead to financial savings.
At Port Hedland, our analysis saw the potential for reduction in fuel consumption of up to 7.8%, as well as a reduction in the number of generator starts of up to 36.1%.
It might look like a humble camera but one piece of innovative technology has the potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars across the Australian energy sector.