Energy Innovation Series: How to manage energy demand thresholds

June 27, 2022

A Q&A with Director of Engineering at RedBack Technologies, Adrian Knack: how to address challenges and increasing pressure on power networks?

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Director of Engineering at RedBack Technologies, Adrian Knack, will be talking at Energy Next, the free-to-attend industry event aimed at transforming the Clean Energy sector. The event takes place at the ICC on the 19-20th July 2022. Adrian will be talking about Utilising inexpensive CAT M1 devices to upgrade or replace AFLC infrastructure 

As networks come under increasing pressure due to the increase of renewable energy on the power network, and start to face operational challenges where the demand may fall below the minimum demand threshold, security challenges may occur. While standards have been updated to account for shedding PV capability other solutions exist to optimise the network loads. Utilising low-cost CAT M1 mobile network devices to control loads such as hot water, pool pumps, and even older inverters such that they can obey demand response signaling has become a viable alternative to the replacement of aging audio-frequency load control hardware. 

The benefits of moving to a CAT M1 IoT have numerous advantages of AFLC. Two-way communications for greater insights into the load can be added or removed from the network at any given time. Data over time also allows for a more accurate prediction of the switchable load into the future. The speed of the data transfer means the loads can also react in real-time to un-forecast events. Adding additional capabilities to monitor grid conditions to these devices to protect homes from safety-related issues such as broken neutral, voltage sag and swell and other quality of service metrics means that CAT M1 IoT devices may be the future of ensuring the safe and stable operation of our power networks into the future.

We spoke to Adrian further about this proposed solution to manage possible demand thresholds:

Why will there be a problem if demand falls below the minimum demand threshold with our new renewable energy sources? You talk about security challenges – what sorts of impact would they have?

Adrian: This issue has been a common talking point in the industry for a few years now, I suggest having a quick look at this article from 2020 published by the AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator)

Primarily the issues which we’re seeking to help mitigate are around voltage management, unintended disconnection of distributed solar, frequency response. This would be done by using an IoT device (such as Luceo Link LV) which communicates on Telstra’s CAT-M1 network to monitor and control loads (e.g. hot water, pool pumps, etc.) to either increase or decrease the load on the electrical grid.

Can you explain how the CAT M1 technologies will control power loads?

CAT-M1 is a low power wide area network cellular technology (like 4G/5G but lower bandwidth). It was specifically developed for lightweight edge device processing and control. Utilising this communications medium in the context of load control for the electrical grid means that we are able to monitor power usage and quality of service (of the electrical grid) in real time. Furthermore, because the communications are two ways, just like your phone internet, you can send control signals to connected devices to have them operate in certain ways (which the home owner would have to agree to) in order to support the stability and security of the electrical grid (to help ensure there are no blackouts… or at least a reduced risk).

Can you give us an example of a CAT M1 technology and how many households already have these sorts of units?

I’d probably move away from CAT-M1 at this point, it is just an enabling technology. Other internet based technologies exist (like home wifi) but CAT-M1 is good because it is like your mobile phone subscription it doesn’t require user setup.

In Queensland, they have the AFLC system to control loads on different tariffs, but this is limited because you don’t get feedback from each house/load if it actually got the signal and responded.  The IoT solution ensures compliance to the command being issued and it is easier to assess the impact. It is also easier to turn the control to specific houses, suburbs, device types. etc. 

Some solar and battery inverters offer relay control of devices which could operate in a similar way but inverters are significantly more expensive than a small control device.

How do they integrate into the existing power network/grid integration? 

This is installed in the home owners meter box typically (at least the Luceo Link LV which we offer). This makes most sense because the networks are only interested in large loads (e.g. hot water) which would make a significant difference to the power on the network. But in theory you could extend all the way to things like smart plugs.

How would the consumer integrate these CAT MI technologies into their local/ at home energy network?

An electrician would typically install the device in the home owners (or commercial facility) switchboard  and connect the control relay to the load being controlled.

Has this solution been tried and, if so, what were the results of this trial?

We’ve had a trial of 50 homes in Queensland for the last 12 months. The trial controlled the home’s electric hot water systems and experimented with adjusting the operating times of these systems to perform tasks like solar soak (using excess solar on the grid during the day) and removing loads from the grid during peak usage times (i.e. morning and evening).  

There is a lot of discussion about the instability of a grid powered by renewable energy, what are the key things that need to happen to mitigate against this instability? 

Visibility of the low voltage network is the first step. Once we have clear visibility rather than projections and assumptions we can start to make better decisions on how to operate the grid and where to invest in infrastructure to ensure the stability of the network. This also allows for better decision making in future- proofing the network for 100% renewables, electrification of transportation (e.g. EVs) and net-zero emissions by 2050.

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