The number of times that a huge peak demand/load occurs – leading to electricity blackouts – varies across our states and territories and may only be a few hours a year.
Apart from building more capacity, or demand management, network operators have had no solution.
The the biggest strain on our electricity networks – and, Giles says, the cause for at least one third of the $45 billion network upgrades, and at least half of the recently announced tariff increases – are the ‘super’ peak demand periods triggered when people go home from work and turn on the air-con.
What if we used an intermittent resource – solar powered air conditioning – to create a ‘firming’ solar resource which can respond to support the electricity grid during times of stress?
CSIRO in a joint $570,430 project with GWA and Queensland utility Ergon Energy, supported by the Australian Solar Institute is investigating this possibility.
“First it’s necessary to understand the solar air-con technology that has been developed by CSIRO. It uses panels similar to those used for solar hot water, to collect the sun’s heat as hot air, and uses this in turn to create cool air – a strange-sounding idea, but one that is really no stranger than the old kerosene fridges.
CSIRO want to install these devices as a retrofit on houses (with gas backup), and couple them with an energy management device that links back to the grid operator. It will work on the same principle as off-peak hot water systems, except in this instance the signal will instruct the air-con driven by electricity to be switched off, replaced with the solar source or, if no sun, by a gas source…
CSIRO is currently going through the commercialisation process of its solar cooling technology. This project, which will be road-tested in three houses in Queensland, will test the ability for the technology to shift the air conditioning load to solar and gas when the network needs it, while keeping the occupants comfortable…
The end game for this sort of technology is instead of having to upgrade the network in certain areas – and hitting capacity constraints – maybe the grid operators can look at other interesting ideas. There could be real incentives to putting in solar air-con with this type of technology and allow the utilities to shift loads.
If the project is successful, it is anticipated that this firm solar air conditioning system could achieve widespread uptake as a utility-friendly solar solution. And it would likely be preferable to business-as-usual electrical network upgrades and allow energy utilities to redirect expenditure toward generation plant, rather than distribution infrastructure.”
An excellent idea