Article: Grid transition faces critical gateway

By Agnes King

Transgrid hopes to ink a supply agreement for the last piece of critical transmission equipment to ween Australia off fossil fuels within months.

The company currently has three framework agreements in place, with Hyosung for transformers, Hitachi for reactors, and ZTT Australia to supply conductors, as part of a concerted effort to jump the queue amid a worldwide fracas over key equipment.

Synchronous condensers are the last piece of the puzzle, Transgrid Executive General Manager Delivery, Craig Stallan, says.

“That’s the other piece of critical equipment that the grid needs that’s on very short global supply,” he says.

Global production capacity for synchronous condensers is around 50 units a year, explains Stallan. Transgrid plans to absorb a big chunk of that capacity.

“We’re looking for a minimum of five [synchronous condensers] but maybe up to 20,” Stallan says.

Meanwhile, Germany, the United States, and other countries are pushing hard for supply chain supremacy.

The new approach to procurement is all about getting the necessary grid infrastructure built in time.

Transgrid has been able to change the conversation with suppliers using its foresight to bundle mega projects to get scale, Stallan says.

“Rather than asking for prices on bespoke pieces of equipment, we asked suppliers what we would have to do for them to expand their capacity and then guarantee us that capacity until we don’t need it anymore,” he says.

The first pieces of equipment under Transgrid’s framework agreements will start rolling off production lines in the first quarter next year.

In the meantime, Stallan says the priority across the industry remains removing red tape and accelerating decisions around connections and planning approvals.

The energy regulator has been interrogating industry players about the best way to manage the cost of the energy transition. Specifically, it wants to know if the cost could be reduced by slowing it down.

“The simple answer to that is no,” Stallan says. “Everything that takes longer, costs more [in transmission].”

On the generator side, Stallan says customers are less concerned about how quickly infrastructure is built. They just want certainty so they can plan.

AER is due to make several high-stakes Integrated System Plan decisions in the next quarter, viewed by some as the next gateway in keeping Australia’s energy transition on track.

AI adoption surges to manage grid complexity

Against this backdrop, Powerlink Executive General Manager, Network & Business Development, Dr Stewart Bell, predicts a surge in the uptake of artificial intelligence solutions across the energy sector to manage a more dynamic grid, and optimise revenue and profitability.

“The energy network becomes far more complex with variable generation that is weather dependent, the sheer number of generators involved, and customer energy resources like rooftop and electric vehicles [drawing from and feeding into the grid]. You need automation to manage that,” Bell says.

Bell says we’ve arrived at a perfect intersection of AI tools reaching sophistication just as the complexity of managing the grid becomes overwhelming using traditional methods.

“These AI techniques and advanced energy systems developed by the likes of OSI and General Electric are allowing us to get the right outcome for Queenslanders,” Bell says.

Powerlink uses AI tools to manage network stability, outages and maintenance, and weather forecasting. But the wave on the prosumer side – home energy systems that seamlessly optimise residential customers electricity use – will be just as big.

Companies like Tesla, for example, have embedded AI tools in batteries to determine optimal charging and discharging times.

“The challenge is adoption,” Bell says.

For most people, electricity is a largely an invisible grudge purchase. Now, these technology tools are inviting consumers to engage with power usage in a completely different way.

New opportunities for regional hubs

Fresh from the opening on Transgrid’s Wagga Wagga hub, Stallan says the hot topic of conversation in relation to the energy transition in the regions is ’What’s next?’

Communities are exploring opportunities and benefits beyond construction of new transmission infrastructure.

“In a place like Wagga, you’re almost at the heart of the NEM when all this infrastructure gets built out. High-energy smart technology type companies - hyperscalers’ data centres running AI - will want to be located in cities like that with high quality, green power, a reasonable price to locate there, and land is not as challenged as Sydney,” Stallan says.

Representatives of VicGrid, Lumea/Transgrid, Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Energy Queensland, Ausgrid, Essential Energy & AusNet Services (plus many more!) will be speaking in the 'Re-engineering the Grid' stream of Australian Energy Week 2024 (13 June).

To access the detailed conference program, download the brochure here.

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