Information for Consumers - Emergency Solar Management

Information for consumers on the new requirements for emergency solar management (or DPV Management), which will apply to new and upgraded rooftop solar installations from 14 February 2022.

Western Australia is leading the transition to renewable energy and we are preparing our power system for record levels of rooftop solar and other renewables.

The State Government is introducing the ability to manage rooftop solar exports in emergency situations that arise with very high levels of renewables and could otherwise lead to widespread loss of power. 

This new capability will apply to new and upgraded systems from 14 February 2022. If you already have rooftop solar you will not be affected by this change unless you decide to upgrade. 

During an emergency event, generation from managed rooftop solar systems will be turned down or turned off. During these times households will be able to use grid power as normal.  

The new requirements will:

  • only apply to new and upgraded rooftop solar DPV – existing customers will be unaffected;
  • only be used in emergencies – expected to be needed infrequently and for short periods, and will prevent loss of power for consumers during these critical times;
  • not interrupt power supply to customers – only rooftop solar generation is reduced, and customers will continue to receive power from the grid; 
  • only impact households as a last resort – other options to protect the power system, including turning off large-scale generators, will be exhausted first; and 
  • allow more renewables overall – by managing risks during these infrequent emergency times, greater levels of rooftop solar installation will be possible.

There’s a long-term plan underway to reduce the need for this emergency measure, including investment in storage, improving pricing signals, and allowing for customer devices to provide energy services for payment. Find out more about the Energy Transformation Strategy.

What is Emergency Solar Management?

Emergency Solar Management is the capability to remotely reduce the generation from small-scale distributed rooftop solar PV systems as a last resort measure, assisting the Australian Energy Market Operator to protect the power system during extreme low load events.

It will only be used as a last resort measure to protect the power system during emergencies. Without this backstop measure, the alternative includes disconnecting distribution feeders, which would cut power to entire suburbs.

The State Government is introducing a requirement for new and upgraded rooftop solar systems with an inverter capacity of 5kW or less to be capable of being remotely managed, so they can be called on during a Emergency Solar Management event. 

How will Emergency Solar Management be used?

Emergency Solar Management will only be used as a last resort in emergency situations to avoid blackouts.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has a series of measures that will be exhausted in emergency situations before it will trigger Emergency Solar Management. This is illustrated in the diagram below. 

How will Emergency Solar Management be used

Importantly, Emergency Solar Management is a last resort measure, when all other options have been used and prevents the need to disconnect feeders (which would turn off power to households) to keep the system secure.

It is anticipated that Emergency Solar Management will only be used infrequently and for short periods of time. This is expected, at earliest, from late 2022, when the level of household solar is expected to reach critical levels.

However, it is necessary to introduce capability requirements now to ensure that a sufficient amount of rooftop solar can be managed during emergency events. If capability requirements were to be delayed, the only option to ensure the system remains stable would be to stop new solar installations altogether.

Similar capability was introduced in South Australia in September 2020. Since then, it has been used once for about one hour.

What will happen in a Emergency Solar Management event?

During an extreme low load event, AEMO will undertake a range of actions to manage the power system, including reducing large-scale generation, procuring additional energy services to ensure the system can be operated at a lower load level, and coordinating with Western Power on network configuration.

If these actions will not be sufficient to avoid the system entering an unsecure state, AEMO will direct Western Power to provide a response. At present, Western Power is able to manage certain large commercial DPV systems, and so it will reduce generation from these systems. 

After these actions have been exhausted, Synergy will be requested to remotely reduce generation from DPV systems. Synergy will ensure that the impact is shared equitably across customers.

Once emergency conditions have passed, Synergy will then remotely increase generation from the affected systems. Following an event, information will be provided to customers.

The figure below provides an outline of the steps before, during and after an example extreme low load event. 

There may also be events that occur without prior warning - these could include faults causing the loss of a large industrial load, or a bushfire taking out a transmission line connecting a large amount of load to the grid. The sudden loss of a large load could require an emergency response from the power system without prior notice.

I'm planning to install solar - how will this affect me?

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From Monday, 14 February 2022, all new and upgraded rooftop solar with a capacity of 5kW or less (typical household systems) will need to be capable of being remotely managed.

This means that if you are:

  • installing a new rooftop solar system 5kW or less from 14 February 2022; or
  • upgrading an existing rooftop solar system to 5kW or under from 14 February 2022; or
  • adding a battery, with your solar inverter remaining 5kW or under, from 14 February 2022;

then your system must meet the requirements for management capability.

Your installer will give you options on how your system can meet the requirements, and other information is available from Synergy.

I already have rooftop solar - how will this affect me?

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If you have an existing rooftop solar system you will not be affected by this change unless you decide to upgrade or install a battery.

What's happening with renewables in WA?

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Western Australians are embracing rooftop solar at unprecedented rates - every year, households install solar capacity equivalent to our largest coal generator. This is an incredible achievement.

  • About one in three homes already have rooftop solar PV
  • Rooftop solar PV is already providing as much as 64% of the energy we use during the middle of the day
  • Renewables generated over 30.4% of all energy used in the State’s main grid in 2020-21 (up from 11.7% only five years ago). This is more than the 28.8% share of renewables in the National Electricity Market in the eastern states.
  • Western Australia is on a path to reaching more than 70% renewable energy by 2040

Why do we need to manage rooftop solar?

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Very high levels of solar generation can present risks to our power system at times of low load, which occur when generation from solar is high and electricity demand is low.

These periods are typically during mild, sunny days in Autumn and Spring, on weekends and holiday periods when demand from businesses is relatively low and air-conditioning is unnecessary for most customers.

At these times, fewer large conventional generators are required to operate. However, these generators perform critical services in our power system, stabilising electrical frequency on the grid, helping the power system continue through disturbances (such as outages), and sudden changes in demand and supply. Without these services, our power system is vulnerable to widespread outages.

Managing rooftop solar will enable us to prevent this instability during times of low load. Management has always been performed on large generators, and these generators will still be managed first during an emergency, before households are affected.

The capability to manage solar exports during emergency conditions was recommended in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO)  Renewable Energy Integration - SWIS Update report, released on 28 September 2021.

Why don’t we do something else, like subsidise or build new batteries?

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Batteries can be helpful in reducing power system risks  by storing energy during emergency low load events.

However using batteries to remove the need for all curtailment in extreme circumstances would not remove the near-term risks, as well as being very expensive and adding considerably to power bills. 

  • Household batteries can support the system only if they are controllable. For example, most batteries are full by midday - this means they cannot help to avoid or assist in a low load periods, which typically occur in the early afternoon. The technology and settings for orchestrating household batteries is still being developed.
  • There is a two-year lead time for the development, procurement, and installation of large-scale batteries, so storage would not solve the immediate need.
  • Installing enough large batteries to remove the need for Emergency Solar Management would be very expensive - estimated at $4 billion to 2030, or about $500 per household each year. In comparison, the cost to households to turn off solar for short periods is small.  In South Australia, this measure has only been used once, and the cost was $1-2 per household.

The Government is also investing in batteries, including the Big Battery in Kwinana and 13 PowerBank community batteries.  However, due to the high cost of battery storage, and the low cost of solar technology, the lowest cost way to increase renewables in our electricity supply is to continue to build renewable capacity and manage generation during times of system risk.

Storage will be an important part of the transition to a renewable energy future and will reduce the need for emergency solar management in the long term. 

What else are we doing?

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Managing rooftop solar is part of a suite of measures helping to transform and decarbonise our power system.

It is expected to be called on less frequently as the transformation matures and can be replaced by other measures, such as:

Storing energy in batteries – as well as the recently announced Big Battery at Kwinana, we have installed 13 community batteries. We are also changing the electricity market rules to support batteries throughout the power system and there are a number of private sector proposals in the works.

Orchestrating household energy devices – household batteries can be called on to prevent emergency conditions if they have capacity (i.e. not fully charged) when required. Other household devices such as hot water systems (and EVs in the future) will also be used. Orchestration is being piloted through Project Symphony.

Soaking up solar – we are piloting a new tariff that encourages households to use more of their electricity when solar energy is plentiful by offering a low price during the day. We are already working with large energy users, such as the Water Corporation, to use more electricity during the day, and have more products planned.

Electric Vehicles – We are preparing the grid for electric vehicles so we can take advantage of the opportunities they present in soaking up abundant renewable energy. This offers significant long-term potential, but with only 3,000 vehicles in Western Australia at the moment, there are not yet enough to soak up the excess solar.

Together, these actions will keep our power system secure under very high levels of renewables.

Why are larger systems not included?

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Emergency Solar Management requirements apply to systems with inverter capacity of 5kW and less.

However, new systems larger than 5kW will be subject to export limits at all times. This will limit the impact these systems have on the grid during low load events. 

Export limits will be set to 1.5kW or 5%. By comparison, systems meeting Emergency Solar Management requirements will be able to export up to 5kW (except under emergency conditions).

The new export limits will enable households to install larger systems for self-consumption through a new, streamlined connection process. Businesses with new solar systems will also be subject to the same export limitations.

In the longer-term, when aggregation of customer devices is rolled out across the grid, households with larger systems will have the option of participating in virtual power plants (with flexible export limits).

What can I do to help the grid?

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You can help during times of low load in many ways.

Days of low load risk occur generally on weekends, and when the weather is sunny and mild. 

On these days, all households, whether or not they have rooftop solar installed, can help make the most of plentiful solar generation by moving energy usage to around lunchtime. This could include:

  • running appliances, such as the dishwasher and washing machine
  • charging devices such as laptops and phones 
  • setting timers on hot water systems and pool pumps 
  • charging electric vehicles 
  • setting batteries to commence charging at midday

Future solar customers can also choose the size of their PV system to match their household need, so that they are not exporting excess amounts of energy to the grid.

Will there be additional costs for households?

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There are different ways to ensure your system meets the requirements for Emergency Solar Management, and some of these may incur an additional upfront cost.

However, costs will not be high compared to the overall cost of your system or upgrade. You should be able to discuss the costs associated with Emergency Solar Management capability with your installer.

Some methods of management require a household internet connection. In this case, costs associated with the internet connection will be the responsibility of the customer.

For most customers, rooftop solar will not be generating during a Emergency Solar Management event, and they will need to purchase electricity from the grid to meet their needs. This is estimated to cost an average household less than $2 per event if electricity use is continued as normal. 

Depending on the functionality of your inverter, it may be possible to put in place solutions that allow for your rooftop solar system to be ‘turned down’ rather than off. In that case, you can continue to use energy generated from your solar during an Emergency Solar Management event.

Will this impact my feed-in tariffs or the return on my investment?

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Emergency Solar Management requirements do not affect eligibility for the Distributed Energy Buyback Scheme.

Since it is anticipated Emergency Solar Management will be required for only infrequent and short periods, the new requirement will have a negligible impact on power bills, buyback payments or return on investment.

Will I be financially compensated if a DPV Management event occurs?

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There will be no compensation to solar owners for Emergency Solar Management events.

This is in line with rules that apply to larger generators, including large wind and solar farms during emergencies. Also, these same generators will impacted prior to households during a Emergency Solar Management event.

The State Government and Synergy are exploring innovative services whereby solar customers could receive payments for allowing their system to be turned down before the power system reaches an emergency state. This would also reduce the need for emergency solar management in response to an emergency in the future.

Can I power my home from my battery during a DPV Management event?

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You may be able to use your battery to power your home during a Emergency Solar Management event, however not all systems are designed to be able to do this.

You should discuss this option with your installer. 

I am moving into a house with rooftop solar - what do I need to do?

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If the system was installed under the new requirements, Synergy will contact you to ensure that the rooftop solar system at the property still meets the requirement for remote management. Synergy will explain any obligations you may have in maintaining the remote management capability of the rooftop solar system.

What if I need to replace part of my rooftop solar system under warranty?

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Product replacements undertaken under warranty will not trigger the requirement for the rooftop solar system to be remotely managed, providing the inverter remains the same capacity.

If a like-for-like replacement is not available, or the capacity of the inverter is increased, the system will need to comply with the retailer’s requirements for Emergency Solar Management capability.

What information will I get before and after DPV management events?

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We understand that households would like as much information as possible on Emergency Solar Management events, including advance warning and communications after the event.

Synergy will be communicating with customers to make sure that they are provided information as soon as possible after an event.

Page reviewed 6 December 2021