It’s a long way to the top if you want a renewable future

Australia is increasingly heading for a future powered in large part by local renewable energy – and I tell you folks, it’s far more complex than simply plug and play. Integrating distributed energy resources like rooftop solar and storage devices into the grid is a huge task. It will be achieved not just by engineers and policy experts, but through the efforts of customers and communities. They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and while we are well on our way, it’s still a long way to the top if we want a renewable energy future. One development taking us forward is the introduction of a new technical standard to make inverters smarter.

An inverter is a key piece of equipment that allows the energy generated by solar panels on our roofs to be exported or sent back into the grid. This is achieved by converting the energy from direct current (DC, made by solar panels) to alternating current (AC, grid operating power).

We’ve previously talked about the need to manage or constrain the sheer number of residential solar panels exporting into the grid, but what if there was a way to minimise the number of solar panels that had to be turned off?

The new inverter standard (AS NZS 4777.2:2020) is the technical part of the answer. This came into effect on 18 December 2021.

What is it and why do we need it?

AS NZS” stands for Australian Standards and New Zealand Standards. Our countries share many different types of standards because we have similar appliances and electricity systems and doing this has benefits for both nations.

4777.2:2020” denotes the exact standard we’re talking about (in this case called Grid connection of energy systems via inverters) and the “.2:2020” means it’s the 2nd part of this standard which was developed back in 2020.

Distributed Energy Resources (DER) are growing at a rapid rate in Australia and the impact of more than three million rooftop solar panels exporting power back into the grid is being felt in all corners of the industry. This is only going to become more pronounced as more people get rooftop solar and end-use customers form a larger part of the generation mix.

The new inverter standard was developed by a range of technical experts from across the industry and was subject to a rigorous approvals process that included significant public consultation.

One of the key objectives of the new standard is mandating that new inverters can continue operating during widespread system events instead of shutting off immediately, this is otherwise known as “ride through capability”.

What it means for you

Depending on who you are, the new standard will mean different things for you.

If you are a

  • Customer – This means you will be buying a smarter and objectively “better” inverter that can do more than most older versions are capable of. The inverter keeps operating when it would otherwise turn off. You need to check with your provider and installer that you are getting an inverter that complies with Australian law.
  • Network Service Provider (NSP) – By identifying and communicating the mode (freely available on our website) which best suits your network to installers, it should result in your assets being able to accommodate more DER (hosting capacity) minimising customer impacts during system disturbances. This means happier customers and (hopefully) less complaints.
  • Australian Energy Market Operator – The standard will help minimise the disturbances experienced in the larger power system caused by distributed photovoltaics (residential solar panels). This reduces the need for expensive solutions which all customers must pay for.
  • Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) – You should only sell products in Australia that have been tested and meet or exceed the new standard. By doing so, you help yourself and the industry grow the total number of potential solar customers.
  • Installers – You are obligated to only sell and install new inverters that meet the new standard. You should also check with your local NSP what the right settings are for that network. Doing these small steps gives your customers a better experience that helps your business and industry. More information can be found on ENA’s website.

Getting the right device and service

While there are audit programs run by various governments to weed out the few unscrupulous solar suppliers, it is still important for customers to be vigilant and only deal with reputable companies who provide the right devices that suit customer needs and comply with the industry best practice. We urge customers to only purchase inverters that have been tested and approved under AS 4777.2:2020.

The Clean Energy Council approved inverter list is an easy to use tool to check that you’re getting the right product and doing the right thing.

Final thoughts

An important thing to note is that this new standard is not retroactive, meaning it doesn’t apply to installations before 18 December 2021. While it’s good that customers who have already spent money don’t have to spend more to update their systems, it also means that there are more than three million installations that don’t comply with the new standard (and don’t feature the associated benefits).

Unless there is drastic action (or government program), the industry will just have to wait until these systems reach natural end of life (around 10-15yrs) and get replaced with more contemporary devices.

It’s only a small step in the journey (but an important one) and is just one of the many things that the whole electricity industry is working together on to achieve a renewable energy future for us all.