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Navigating the shifting solar energy landscape

  • March 13, 2024
  • by Sponsored
The evolving energy landscape necessitates a revaluation of traditional feasibility studies, according to Stantec Associate, Energy Team Lead, Kieran Hannigan

As renewable energy continues to reshape the energy landscape, property professionals find themselves at a pivotal juncture where the feasibility of energy solutions demands meticulous attention.

The evolving energy landscape necessitates a revaluation of traditional feasibility studies, according to Stantec Associate, Energy Team Lead, Kieran Hannigan.

He said that with the proliferation of tariffs and the shifting dynamics of energy supply and demand, a one-size-fits-all approach to feasibility studies is no longer adequate.

Mr Hannigan said consultants would often assume that a business is on a standard retail tariff and use a flat rate for cost based on system size; without considering peak/off-peak periods, feed-in (export) limits, or costs for electrical infrastructure and protection systems.

“The last 20 feasibility studies that we’ve done, my team has probably seen 20 different tariffs,” he said.

“That is because they vary from retailer to retailer and region to region. Some larger customers participate directly in the wholesale market and have spot price exposure on network tariffs. A lot of people aren’t aware of this variation because they think ‘I get charged a standard 30 cents at home’, but it doesn’t look like that in the commercial and industrial space. Back-of-the-envelope just doesn’t cut it here.”

Mr Hannigan noted that in solar panel rich states like Western Australia, feeding back into the grid is nearly impossible at scale and a feasibility study would need to come from a business offsetting its own consumption.

Feasibility studies, once straightforward assessments, now demand a multifaceted analysis that considers an array of factors, Mr Hannigan said.

From the impact of tariffs on economic viability to the shift in peak consumption periods, property professionals must navigate a complex web of variables to determine the feasibility of distributed energy resources effectively.

Mr Hannigan said some feasibility studies can miss key features by taking a one size fits all approach.

“We recently had a building that was tilted about 15 degrees towards the south,” Mr Hannigan said.

“The feasibility from the contractor came back looking great, but as soon as we ran our numbers using the actual orientation data of the panels, the fact that they’d be tilted away from the sun, shaved off 20 per cent of the returns that were expected.”

As property professionals embark on this journey towards a renewable future, the importance of rigorous feasibility studies cannot be overstated, My Hannigan said.

Additionally, according to Mr Hannigan, peaks in energy usage could be costing businesses due to some tariffs using peak loads to set charges.

“That peak load – if you’re on a certain type of tariff – that may only be a few minutes in summer, is what determines the charges that you pay for capacity for the entire year,” he said.

“You really don’t want to get hit by failing to pay attention to these things. We get asked about batteries for peak shifting and targeting those capacity charges because these are popular subjects today. It can help a lot on some types of charges but is very risky on others. It requires an in-depth review and consideration against other options such as demand-response or changing production schedules.”

Indeed, as energy generation patterns evolve, the need to decouple generation and consumption becomes increasingly apparent. Battery energy storage systems have emerged as a viable solution, offering the flexibility to store excess energy for use during peak demand periods.

However, assessing the feasibility of battery storage system requires a meticulous calculation process that integrates solar PV systems seamlessly.

Nevertheless, these systems often fail to align, which is where the feasibility study becomes crucial, Mr Hannigan said.

“A lot of the time, batteries don’t stack up economically, but in the situations where they do, it’s because there’s a site that has predictable and controllable patterns in demand over the year,” he said.

“In some situations, if you have a battery system, you’re able to absorb more energy during the daylight hours in preparation for a peak, and then you can offset that peak when you know that it’s coming. But in order to be viable, batteries need to be doing something more than just this straight arbitrage, such as participation in other programmes like Virtual Power Plants.”

By harnessing the power of technology and adopting a forward-thinking approach, property owners can unlock the full potential of distributed energy resources while shaping a more sustainable tomorrow.

To learn more about how to make solar work, visit Stantec’s website: https://www.stantec.com/en/markets/energy/renewable-energy/solar-power