Optimising Australian networks and speeding electrification

By Jack Curtis, Neara Co-Founder
Thursday, 21 December, 2023

Optimising Australian networks and speeding electrification

Multiple reports released throughout 2023, including the New South Wales Government’s Electricity Supply and Reliability Check-Up, have reinforced the main challenge facing Australia’s energy sector: we need to diversify our approach to the clean energy transition or risk losing grid reliability. In fact, this report’s specific recognition of untapped capacity sitting within the grid highlights the pressing need for infrastructure optimisation beyond physical projects and transmission lines, with new methodologies like digital analysis critical to maximising the grid’s full potential.

Australian network service providers (NSPs) are increasingly deploying AI and machine learning-powered capabilities to unlock untapped network capacity and bring renewables online faster. This diversified approach aims to de-risk the clean energy transition by sourcing untapped capacity, but technology can and should be playing a greater role in stabilising energy supply as renewables are brought online.

Based on digital modelling of the NSW network, there are up to 10 gigawatts of available yet untapped capacity sitting within the existing grid with a clear accessibility pathway. This volume of available power requires little network augmentation and funding and could provide more energy than HumeLink, Central West Orana and Eraring combined. Essentially, this would give us enough renewable generation in time to counter the exit of fossil-fuelled power stations like Eraring, without waiting for the delivery of new transmission projects.

With further analysis and modelling, this figure could rise significantly not only in NSW but across Australia. Neara’s AI-enabled digital modelling of Essential Energy’s network, which covers nearly 900,000 homes and businesses, allowed the network to unlock significant capacity across its 1.4 million conductors by showing the volume of energy distribution available to be transported could more than double with only minimal cost and time investment required. By modelling each span individually, capacity in certain parts of Essential’s network was twice as high as previously thought under a crude standards model. These findings alleviated the requirements for export limits on rooftop solar and allowed larger systems to be installed on residential and commercial premises.

Sourcing network capacity with advanced digital line ratings

Digital line ratings can play a critical role in bringing renewable energy online at an accelerated pace. In the United States, EMPACT Engineering scaled its adoption of Neara’s platform for wider processes including line ratings, allowing the identification of more opportunities to bring more electricity online using only existing assets, finding 94.5% of lines could safely run at double their capacity. This assisted EMPACT in helping utilities more effectively navigate extreme weather and resultant demand spikes while bringing more clean energy online faster.

While there are still limits to how much energy utilities can run at once, technology in this use case helps utilities implement standards at a line-by-line level offering critical flexibility not provided by crude, conservative models traditionally deployed for safety. Traditional line rating methods that evaluate capacity usage are still largely manual, requiring individual engineers to be sent into the field to record, compile and analyse data from each stretch of the network. This process is incredibly time-consuming, laborious and cost-intensive, and fails to provide the level of detail or visibility needed to accurately assess true capacity across an entire several-thousand-kilometre-long network.

This method has caused utilities to err on the side of caution to avoid the risk of overloading lines with potentially dangerous levels of current, as well as downstream clearance risks. This has left many utilities unable to reap the benefits of abundant clean energy projects because the conservative approach leaves little room for new energy integration. Without digitisation of the network to understand the actual capacity, clean energy projects otherwise ready to go are being put on hold due to a lack of confidence as to whether the capacity for them to be safely activated exists.

The potential of technology-driven transmission

The path to a sustainable energy future will be radically shaped by the convergence of technology and innovative thinking. Utilities are already combining multiple data sources including LiDAR, geospatial and satellite imagery to create a more accurate network picture at speed and with greater context. This not only means utilities can action infrastructure changes more efficiently including the strategic addition of taller poles or alternative conductors to accommodate more current, but to identify and aggregate latent network capacity pockets of all sizes to increase the flow of clean energy.

The shift from a manual, conservative approach to scalable data-driven analysis will play a pivotal role in unlocking capacity and fostering a transition towards a more sustainable, optimised future where clean energy is a reality. The combination of innovation and infrastructure will mark the success of the clean energy transition, serving as the paradigm shift required to ensure that 2030 and 2050 targets are not a possibility but a reality.

Image credit: iStock.com/zhengzaishuru

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