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Interview: Mark Paterson, Horizon Power

With an ever-growing number of consumers installing solar PV systems, energy utilities must provide solutions to enable these systems to be integrated into the grid without causing stability issues. Ahead of his presentation at the 2017 Australian Energy Storage Conference, we talked to Mark Paterson, General Manager of Horizon Power’s Consumer Energy division, about how Australian grids can successfully integrate storage with solar technologies to create a stable energy ecosystem for all power users.

The path to a stable solar ecosystem

Mark Paterson recently joined Horizon Power as General Manager of the Consumer Energy Division. Prior to that, he spent six years at CSIRO where he led the Electricity Grids and Renewable Energy research program, chaired the national Future Grid Forum and was Program Director for the Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap.

In his new role at Horizon, he is leading the development of an innovative range of energy solutions for the utility’s customers.

‘I’m responsible for building a new division within Horizon Power that’s focused on customer-facing energy technologies,’ says Mr Paterson. ‘For example, solar and battery bundles, high-efficiency air conditioning, home energy management systems, and stand-alone power systems.’

A microcosm of the larger grid

According to Mr Paterson, Horizon Power’s regional WA networks are almost a ‘microcosm of the larger electricity grids’ and, as a result, can demonstrate a number of key issues related to solar and storage integration, and provide useful lessons for other utilities.

‘Rather than operating in one large grid, like most utilities, we have almost 40 microgrids across the north-west of the continent,’ he says. ‘So, our supply area is about five times the size of California but we serve a population of only 100,000 or so people.’

Because of the size and nature of these microgrids, the effects of issues such as renewable generation intermittency are magnified and can have a significant impact on the stability of the power system. To address this, Horizon Power is working on solutions to enable increased renewable integration, while preserving grid stability.

‘We are very keen to increase what we call solar hosting capacity, which means that we want to increase the ability of our power systems to be able to integrate more and more solar,’ says Mr Paterson.

The solutions applied and lessons learned throughout this process have the potential for application beyond the context of regional WA.

A holistic view

Mark Paterson emphasises the importance of taking a holistic view of an electricity grid throughout the process of transformation towards a low-carbon energy future.

‘Energy storage is one of several important technologies that can play a key role in helping safely integrate more and more solar PV,’ he says. ‘We see the need for an integrated ecosystem – including solar PV, energy storage, demand response, high efficiency appliances and more.’

He believes this transformation requires careful planning and forethought.

‘We need to take a whole-of-system approach to integrating our legacy electricity systems with new energy technologies, rather than just kind of bolting on quick-fixes all over the place,’ he says.

‘It’s all about taking a holistic view to this transformation. There is no one silver bullet, rather we need a silver buckshot approach. In other words, we need to actually do quite a number of different things together to enable this kind of whole system transformation.’

Building upon the work that came before

According to Mr Paterson, effectively drawing on industry experience will be key to the success of grid transformations across Australia.

‘As a nation of 24 million people, it’s critical for Australia to leverage the best practice work that has already been undertaken both here and internationally,’ he says. ‘In other words, we can’t afford to be duplicating work or constantly revisiting topics that have already been addressed.’

‘For example, we need to fully leverage bodies of work such as the AS4755 suite of demand response standards and other important industry initiatives such as the Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap.’

Using Horizon Power’s grids as a case study, Mark Paterson explored these issues further in his presentation, ‘Re-inventing the Future of Electricity in Regional WA,’ at the Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition 2017.

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