How do we connect our wind farm to the grid?
Generally, there is a tendency to compare getting our houses connected to the electricity network and connecting a large generator such as a wind farm to the network. The underlying question in people’s mind is “Why can’t it be simpler?” Reality is, whilst the first may take between a few hours and a few days, the second may take a couple of years.
The main reason for this large difference is that when we call our electricity retailer and request a new connection to our house or simply to switch retailers, the electrical infrastructure is already there and ready to have our house “plugged in”. On the other hand, large generation projects such as a wind farm require both the generator itself and the electrical infrastructure to be planned, designed, procured and built for that specific project, which takes significantly more time.
In addition, there are strict technical requirements and contractual arrangements that need to be in place to allow a new generator to be connected to the electricity network in a way that is not going to cause harm to either the network itself or previously connected generators. This is commonly referred to in the industry as the grid connection process.
For a project seeking to connect to the transmission network in Victoria, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is responsible for managing the grid connection process. AEMO has obligations such as negotiating and agreeing on Generator Performance Standards, defining functional specifications for connection works and procuring the network services that will be passed on to the generator (wind farm). AusNet Services, as the owner of the existing transmission lines, needs to divert these lines into the project’s newly built infrastructure, commonly referred to as connection assets. Finally, the generator needs to engage a Network Service Provider, which often is also AusNet Services, to build and operate these connection assets through the project’s lifecycle. In addition, the generator needs to procure a number of other services, mainly the supply and installation of the wind turbines and the civil works that need to be done at the wind farm site.
This entire process can be quite complex, with several interfaces that need to be managed. This often results in a two-year time span, or more, between lodging a connection application with AEMO and commissioning the wind farm to start generating electricity. Nonetheless, from that point in time, we are effectively achieving our mission of using clean energy to enhance people’s lives.