Why solar shutdowns are not a bad thing

Last weekend marked the first time the energy authorities in South Australia used their new power to remotely switch off 12,000 household solar panels in order to stabilise the electricity grid. If this has made you question whether it’s still worth your while to opt for solar power for home or a commercial solar installation, the answer is still — absolutely, yes! 

Anyone worried about these solar shutdowns needs to keep just two things in mind: 1) this is unlikely to happen more than a few times a year, and not more a few hours at a time. (2) Your home will continue to receive electricity during this ‘solar shutdown’. Only the grid exports will be paused briefly. 

What is the purpose? 

Those who own a solar panel system or have been thinking of installing one, might have heard the news that since October 2020, the authorities in South Australia have had the power to remotely trip solar rooftop panels in emergencies. Due to a rapid growth in rooftop solar production in South Australia, demand for grid electricity has dipped in the recent years, while solar energy production and exports into the grid have gone up. The authorities had anticipated that if supply were to dangerously outstrip demand, it could result in a blackout of the network. It was to prevent such a scenario that the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) recommended a remote shutdown in such emergencies. 

A similar situation arose on March 14, when South Australia experienced “near-record minimum demand levels for electricity from the grid”. At the same time, due to a planned outage of circuits feeing the Heywood interconnector, SA was unable to export any of its excess power to Victoria either. AEMO said about 12,000 rooftop solar systems and nearly 30MW of large-scale solar PV were switched off for an hour in the afternoon.

Nothing to worry about

For the layperson, of course, the shutdown can raise some confusion. Rest assured, however, these are merely teething problems, as the country gets closer to its goal of moving away from fossil fuels and relying more on clean, renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power. SA is the leading state in this race to clean energy, and made global history in October 2020, when it became the first major jurisdiction in the world to be powered entirely by solar energy. For just over an hour on October 11, 2020, 100% of the state’s energy requirements were met by solar power alone. But as Australia takes these steps to integrate renewable energy into its grid, it will also require careful management to ensure the sudden increase in energy doesn’t tip the grid over into a blackout.  

Here are some other common doubts and apprehensions we’ve attempted to address:

  1. Is this going to happen often? It is unlikely that such shutdowns will occur more than a few times a year, and certainly not for prolonged periods. The recent shutdown, too, was merely for an hour. There were several factors that led to the decision, such as the temporary inability to export excess power to Victoria, leading to a build-up of energy in the SA network. Such events will be few and far in between.

2) ‘Will I be stranded without power during the shutdown?’ No, your household/business will continue to receive power supply. In case of newer installations, 

manufacturers have already implemented a solution that will send a signal to the solar panel inverter to simply stop exporting power to the grid, but will continue to supply solar power to the user as usual. 

In the case of some older installations, it is possible that the supply of solar power will cease during the shutdown, but power from the grid will still be available for consumption. In older installations with batteries, if the battery has a separate inverter, it can continue supplying power to the user. If the battery shares the inverter with the panels, then it is likely that supply from the battery will be halted as well. In these cases also, grid electricity will remain available. Over time, these older systems will likely also be retro-fitted a solution that will allow them to continue in-house power supply while ceasing grid export.a 

3) How much will I lose in terms of solar savings or the feed-in tariff during the remote disconnect? In terms of both solar savings and the feed-in tariff, the loss is negligible. Users will lose out on just a few hours of solar power in the entire year. As for the lost feed-in tariff, that is unlikely to amount to anything more than $20-$30 over the entire year.  

All new buyers, please note

Whether you live in South Australia or elsewhere in the country, if you are considering investing in a solar system installation, confirm with your retailer that they are selling you a system with the newer designs that will merely block grid exports and will continue power supply to your home/office. For any queries, you can also reach out to CEC approved retailer and one stop solar shop, Solar NextGen.