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Carnarvon Distributed Energy Resources (DER) trials

Our research trial in Carnarvon, Western Australia helped us to better understand the effects of large numbers of solar PV and battery systems connected to the network. 

Solar PV is changing the way energy systems worldwide are operating, with the industry undergoing the most challenging transformation in its history.  As a result, the demand for rooftop solar is increasing, with our customers wanting more choice and control over their electricity use. 

Horizon Power is navigating a course away from simply allowing our customers to connect solar PV to a business future where customers become active participants in delivering energy into their community and an essential part of the way we sustainably do business. 

Over the last three years, Horizon Power and our research partner Murdoch University, conducted a series of Distributed Energy Resource (DER) technology trials in Carnarvon, WA. We're investing in low carbon innovation and demonstration projects to gain experience with very high penetration levels of renewable energy on our networks. In some cases, 100% of the network energy comes from renewable sources. 

We have completed our reporting and recommendations to improve the way we manage Distributed Energy Resources as a cornerstone to the energy transition. 
The research findings are available through the ARENA Knowledge Bank. Further reports will be added throughout 2021. 

Watch the video to learn more 

Carnarvon DER trials received prestigious award

The Carnarvon Distributed Energy Resource (DER) trials were presented with a prestigious award at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Chile, October 2019.

The joint Silver was awarded to Horizon Power and its project partner Murdoch University as part of the Energy Smart Communities Initiatives' (ESCI) Best Practice Awards, in the category of Smart Grids.

Watch our acceptance speech

About the trials

The challenge 

The visualisation below is generated from data collected from the PV systems of trial participants; each coloured bar represents the renewable energy output of a PV system. The PV systems are different sizes, so they are shown here as 0 – 100% output. Together they are representative of approximately 3.3 MW of PV currently connected to the Carnarvon network. The data has been combined with sky camera and meteorological data to show the variations in solar PV generation as clouds move across the town on a typical cloudy day. This visualisation shows one day compressed into a minute and highlights the number of cloud events and the depth of impact on the renewable energy generated in one day. 



The visualisation below shows a hypothetical DER Management System performing Feed-in Management at peak solar generation time when electrical demand is low. A temporary percentage limit is applied equitably to all the Feed-in Manageable systems. 

Feed-in Management can be used to limit the power that solar systems are exporting back to the grid to preserve network power quality or prevent the generators from being damaged. Homes or businesses with batteries can use this Feed-in Management time to charge their battery or increase their electrical load, such as a pool pump or hot water heating. Developing and testing Feed-in Management strategies were part of the Carnarvon DER trials. 

The opportunity

We understand our customers in regional WA want easier access to solar. This presents us with a challenge to meet increased demand with the current limit to how much renewables can be connected to the grid in geographically isolated towns.  

Carnarvon, for example, has had a strong association with PV uptake since 2006, such that the levels of distributed generation on the network are more than 50% of the average daily load. A high volume of renewables, particularly in a small town, can cause issues with the power supply. We need to carefully manage the renewable energy connected to the grid to ensure it doesn't impact the reliability of power supplies to all of our customers. 

That's why we've set a limit on how much rooftop solar our electricity network can accommodate in each town without disrupting supply to our customers. This is called hosting capacity. Hosting capacity is currently constrained in a few regional towns, which means some customers have been unable to install and enjoy the benefits of rooftop solar systems. 

Horizon Power faces unique challenges in the renewable energy space due mainly to its large number of small microgrids or non-interconnected electricity systems and the inherent high cost of supply to regional towns. The smaller the system, the more vulnerable it is too high levels of solar installation. 

This project sought to resolve the technical, operational and transitional barriers to a high penetration DER business future. It also investigated how to leverage Horizon Power's experience with distributed energy storage to build capabilities in the management and optimisation of high penetration renewable energy generation in remote microgrids. 

Working with Reposit Power in Canberra, the project team developed modes of operation for Virtual Power Plant management of DER in a microgrid setting to investigate how to use this technology to address some of the power quality issues created by very high levels of renewable energy generation. Held over three years, the  Distributed Energy Resource (DER) trials have tested distributed energy systems through a variety of behind-the-meter energy systems tests, with the aim of better understanding how to manage the variability of renewable energy and its impact on the network, and ultimately increasing PV system penetration throughout all of our remote networks. 

Carnarvon was chosen as the location for these cutting-edge trials  because the community has a long history of embracing innovation, with the first privately owned solar farm in Western Australia and record uptake of PV across homes and businesses. 

How did we gather the data? 
We recruited 116 Horizon Power customers in Carnarvon with a rooftop solar PV system, and we installed a Smart Monitor device(s) at their property which allowed us to monitor participants' energy consumption to determine: 

  • the amount of solar PV energy generated; 
  • the amount of solar energy consumed by the customer; and
  • the amount of conventional energy imported from the network, for any particular time of the day.  

The data acquisition formed an important part of building a database of information that was used for power system analysis during the work of the trials. 

Separately, metering PV from the load of these 116 premises uncovered true load which has been masked by PV for the last decade and provided high quality data that showed the effect of cloud events on individual solar PV systems and across the network. Trial participants recruited through a competition held in the town received a DER system consisting of solar panels, a solar inverter, battery and battery inverter, DER control technology and a Wattwatchers device so they can monitor their system performance. In addition, six other trial participants on the Gibson feeder received battery systems to augment their existing PV systems. 

In return for the equipment, participants gave us access to their system for three years so that we could test:

  • DER visibility and control;
  • how much of their renewable energy they use in their house;
  • how they could use the battery to manage their peak demand and save money on their electricity bill; and  
  • how we can communicate with their PV and battery system to achieve orchestration of these assets as part of network optimisation. 

Each of the participants' systems were fitted with monitor and control technology that allowed us to gather PV and battery performance data which we married together with weather data, power station performance and network operation data. 

Analysis of the data collected from the participant's DER systems provided valuable insight into the way fluctuations in solar PV generation impact the network operation through unparalleled visibility of the interaction between the solar PV inverters and the network. Researchers from Murdoch University's School of Engineering and Information Technology (our academic partners for the trials) analysed the data and developed recommendations for improving control strategies to better manage the PV and battery systems. 


Funding partners

This activity received funding from ARENA as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Programme.


Research partners


What were the Carnarvon DER trials? 
Horizon Power conducted a series of trials and experiments over three years involving the monitoring and control of solar photovoltaic (PV) and energy storage in Carnarvon to better understand the effects of large numbers of PV and battery systems connected to the network. 

The trials sought to assess the technical and operational challenges associated with a high-penetration of intermittent generation arising from Distributed Energy Resources (DER) i.e. PV and battery systems.  

The trial helped us to better understand how to monitor and control PV and battery systems and how we can offer improved products and services to customers and maximise the benefits they receive from their DER systems. 

What technology did Horizon Power test in the trials? 
Horizon Power tested energy data gathering, sky camera and meteorological data gathering equipment, as well as forecasting systems, residential battery storage and inverters with remote monitoring and control devices. 

What has prompted Horizon Power to conduct the trials now? 
Horizon Power acknowledges our customer's appetite for more control over their energy consumption and self-generation and recognises the value of renewable energy. We're seeking to exploit advances in technology that are opening up new opportunities to build a cleaner, fairer and more efficient power system. These trials tested renewable energy generation control techniques that will allow Horizon Power to facilitate the uptake of  PV and batteries. 

Why are the trials being staged in Carnarvon? 
Carnarvon has always had a strong solar community at the forefront of PV uptake, with the first privately owned solar farm in Australia still operates in Carnarvon. Horizon Power is seeking to engage that enthusiasm and put Carnarvon on the map again as a test bed for ground-breaking research into the management of renewables and energy storage. 

Will any third parties be able to access data collected from the trial? 
Collected data will only be accessible to industry partners who are working closely with Horizon Power and have entered into strict confidentiality agreements to ensure customer privacy. 

Data collected from participants' DER systems will be carefully analysed to develop control algorithms and integration techniques that can be used to better manage DER on our networks.