Weathering the storm: Preparing Australia’s grid for resilience

AER, DMIS, synergy, transmission

By Tony Histon, Transmission & Distribution Lead, Utilities, Accenture Asia Pacific, Africa & Middle East

Distributed renewable energy resources have proliferated across the Australian electricity network in response to incentives that consider global emissions and renewable energy targets.

Consequently, electricity investments have focused on green energy rather than the core assets that interconnect customers and sources of supply.

The vulnerabilities of Australia’s ageing utility infrastructure should now be a core concern. With examples of both manmade and environmental unplanned outages crippling international cities this year, Australia’s grid operators must prepare to face a potential ‘perfect storm’ this summer.

New strategies must be employed to create the foundation for a more solid grid system including updated frameworks for emergency response in the short term, and broader modernisation in the long term.

A 21st century grid

The Australian energy market has embraced clean energy with the launch of largescale renewables projects across Australia. However, compared with traditional synchronous generation sources, wind and solar installations are not as resilient to unexpected grid interruptions and are more susceptible to weather. Consequently, renewable generation may worsen outage risk and severity.

The grid is also increasingly interconnected, both in terms of supply and operation. This necessitates more complex modelling of the contingency plans that must be implemented in fault and emergence scenarios.

New forms of energy storage such as batteries enable services that allow system and network operators to respond rapidly to unexpected grid conditions that may eventuate from outages or more unpredictable forms of energy supply. Energy storage may also be used to supply energy during outages and emergencies.

Grid-scale energy storage and distributed energy resources must be met with advanced management solutions. As an alternative to significant augmentation of existing network infrastructure, Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS) and smart energy management solutions can be used to coordinate sources of supply and demand within network constraints.

Related article: Transmission investment a good idea: Energy CEO

With little manual input, this technology can be used to support effective responses to constraints arising from emergencies and unplanned events. The use of these technologies can promote greater grid visibility and allow current infrastructure to work more effectively within prevailing network constraints – especially when coupled with incentives that promote the use of generation and storage in a way that strengthens overall resilience.

Of course, much of this technology can fundamentally alter Australia’s grid system. While the effective implementation of such schemes takes time, providers must renew disaster mitigation frameworks in the short-run to increase emergency preparedness.

Battening down the hatches

The consequences of outdated risk assessment frameworks have made headlines this year as natural and manmade events cause havoc on grid systems across the globe. Additionally, utilities are now facing a more sinister threat landscape with broader vulnerabilities to cyber attacks and hostile intruders.

Utilities providers need robust and forward-looking frameworks for assessing threats, with a modern understanding of the ever-evolving threat landscape. 

Even digital intelligence technologies are at risk. Just this year, grids across the Western United States were victims of a cyber attack which caused period blind spots for over 10 hours. If hackers can successfully inhibit visibility across a grid system, it is imperative that operators have a robust manual to fall back on.

Emergency readiness plans must be enhanced to consider a range of elements:

  • The interconnectedness of Australian energy provision
  • Sophisticated and evolving cyber-threats resulting from the use of new operational technologies
  • Greater vulnerabilities to weather events as renewable energy becomes an increasingly crucial part of the grid
  • New forms of distributed energy supply sources with varying behaviours under fault conditions.

The development of robust risk frameworks will help to reduce the likelihood of energy disruption before new technologies can more effectively automate disaster response.

Related article: Bellarine network upgrades completed for summer

Uniting against an increasingly unpredictable threat landscape

Australian energy’s threat landscape continues to evolve. Weather events and planned attacks now have the potential to cause greater supply disruptions, and with an interconnected grid, impact much larger coverage areas if not handled quickly.

Operators must be able to rely upon robust frameworks for disaster mitigation and communicate more effectively to ensure visibility across the system. Technology enabled solutions should also be explored to provide better overall resilience to outages.

Unplanned events by their very nature are simply unpredictable. What is certain is that they will occur, and operators must be equipped to maintain stability, and minimise downtime in the event of an emergency.