Australia’s rooftop solar panel program has been so successful that it is now causing overloading of state grids and forcing electrical utilities to take evasive action.  As customers put more and more solar electricity into their local electricity networks, the networks are unable to cope. This is a serious problem in the hot months when air conditioners put additional stress on the system.

The Australian‘s take:

The runaway take-up of rooftop solar panels is undermining the quality of electricity supplies, feeding so much power back into the network that it is stressing the system and causing voltage rises that could damage household devices such as computers and televisions.

One of Australia’s biggest electricity network providers, Ausgrid, yesterday warned that there was a “significant likelihood” that costs would have to rise because of the impact of the solar photovoltaic cells….Ausgrid warns that in areas with a high concentration of solar cells, voltage levels can rise and this can have “consequences for appliances and equipment in customers’ homes”. It can also cause solar systems to switch off.

In some states power companies are even refusing new applications by solar homes to connect to the grid for fear they will threaten the operation of their networks.

Energex spokesman Mike Swanston said it was becoming difficult for electricity distribution authorities to set up the power system to ensure correct voltages when some houses in a street had solar and others did not.

“It is similar to the water network – the pipes get smaller and the pressure is designed to be lower as you get closer to the house,” Mr Swanston said. “Start pumping water backwards into the smaller household pipes, and all sorts of strange things happen.”

Energy Networks Association acting chief executive John Deveraux said the problem would only get worse as more rooftop solar panels were installed and the systems got bigger.

Periodic power outages are becoming more common place in rural areas and other areas where there is not enough copper wire in the street to hold the voltage down.  Solar systems “drop out for a few minutes” when voltages get too high, a phenomenon known as “tripping out”.  The utilities say measures such as retrofits and battery storage can stop the “tripping” but can be quite costly.

The demand for rooftop solar panels has been driven by Australia’s national policy of getting 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.  This led to federal and state and subsidies for homes and businesses that install solar panels as well as generous feed-in-tariffs to those that sell their excess power to the grid.  In addition, the flood of low cost Chinese solar panels on the market has lowered the cost to home owners.


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1 Comment on Rooftop solar panels overloading Australia’s electricity grid

  1. Elroy Jetson says:

    I suspect it’s worse than the story describes. As solar input rises to the grid in an erratic fashion, the old reliable sources (coal-fired; natural gas) have to reduce their output thereby driving them down below optimum levels of operation and inflating their cost per unit output. As an Ontarian in Canada, this will likely become another separate line item in electricity bills of the very near future.