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ZEN Energy, Sungrow, SEPC build 330MWh South Australia BESS after clearing ‘challenging’ GPS process


ZEN Energy’s 138MW/330MWh Templers battery storage project in South Australia has broken ground after clearing the grid connection approval process in ‘record time,’ according to technology provider Sungrow.

Renewable energy developer and retail utility ZEN Energy held a groundbreaking ceremony just over a week ago with its project partners Sungrow and EPC contractor China Energy Engineering Group Shanxi Electric Power Construction (SEPC).

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For ZEN Energy, it marks a milestone for the project’s push towards the start of commercial operations in 2025, as well as a milestone for the company, being its first battery storage project, acquired in early 2023 from fellow developer RES.

The asset will connect to the National Electricity Market (NEM), participating in the various revenue-generating ancillary service and wholesale markets of Australia’s biggest interconnected system, as well as providing system stability services to the grid. ZEN Energy has secured a long-term electricity supply contract from Templers with the South Australian government and in March brought on board US-based infrastructure investor Stonepeak in a AU$70 million (US$46 million) deal.

Along with the groundbreaking ceremony taking place, balance of plant (BOP) work and manufacturing of the project’s battery energy storage system (BESS) equipment has already begun, with site delivery targeted for later this year, according to Thomas Hou, a director at the Australian offices of Sungrow.

The BESS arm of Chinese solar PV inverter manufacturer Sungrow is serving as the system integrator and BESS provider for the Templers project.

South Australia has the highest penetration of renewable energy among Australian states, and the Templers project will help make the network more stable and in the long run make electricity more affordable in the region, Hou told in an interview.

‘Proactive discussions’ key to clearing process quickly

Some of the biggest hurdles to delivering large-scale battery projects in Australia come long before shovels hit the soil, however. Perhaps chief among those hurdles is clearing the stringent process of obtaining necessary approvals to connect to the grid and into the NEM.

“The grid connection process is quite challenging for the whole Australian market, including both the National Electricity Market, and Wholesale Electricity Market (WEM) which is the one in Western Australia (WA),” Sungrow’s Thomas Hou said.

Resources connecting to the markets need to obtain a 534a letter from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which means they have met the requirements for AEMO’s Generator Performance Standard (GPS)—without which they can’t participate.

“For this project, we started our grid connection application from early 2022 and achieved that 534a letter from AEMO in early 2023. The whole process took around 13 months. That’s a record-breaking time because in the market, generally, it’s 18 months or more.”

That required “proactive discussions,” the Sungrow director said, with the technology company continuously in dialogue with the project’s developers and its consultants, and interacting with the network service provider (NSP) and AEMO.

“As an OEM, you need to proactively deliver the modelling and also provide the necessary input and necessary response where it’s required. You need to be very fast responding.”

Hou explained that the process on the regulatory side demands that, by necessity, it will take some weeks or months for reviews of the OEM’s submission, and as soon as there is any variation or revision, the regulatory will take more time to review those.

“From our side, we try to be dynamic, and we try to get ourselves standing by when there is a modelling-related or technical-related question coming up,” Thomas Hou said, adding that the relatively small time difference between Australia and Sungrow’s Chinese HQ helped, as did the company placing a team of grid connection experts at its North Sydney office that enabled the fast-tracking of much of the process.

“We use our own expertise to model all the foreseeable issues that might be occurring during the process, and we’ll try to make sure that the model we’re providing is lining up with the actual product that we are producing in the factory,” Hou said.

“I think that is quite important for each OEM or inverter manufacturer to address.”

Vertically integrated solution: BESS cabinet, PCS, EMS

It also helps that Sungrow provides a very vertically integrated solution including the BESS, power conversion system (PCS) equipment, and energy management system (EMS, aka the power plant controller, or PPC), Hou claimed.

“On the market, I think there are two types of integrators: one type of integrator they do the manufacturing and the R&D themselves. Sungrow is part of that. Another type of integrator is more EPC-driven. They buy PPC from A), buy an inverter from B), and buy the energy storage DC side from C), and they do the integration in their own warehouse, but it’s warehouse-based, not R&D factory-based,” he said.

“We take all the modelling in-house, and also we can control our model very well.”

Sungrow’s PowerTitan 1 BESS solution is being deployed at the Templers site and it is another challenge related to the Australian market’s stringent grid connection rules that the company’s first-generation liquid-cooled BESS product launched in 2022 will be used and not its newest PowerTitan 2 which launched a year later.

“In terms of the product side, another challenge for the Australian market is that sometimes the project is not able to always use the latest technology because, in general, each OEM is providing a new generation every two to three years and a mezzanine level of the new product in every one to two years.

That is the product’s cycle, but in terms of Australia’s local standards and local Generator Performance Standard certification process, one process takes one to two years, and then you need another one year to pass the R1 and R2 to prove your solution.

So, sometimes when even the new generation of the PCS or the battery storage is coming to the market, it’s not always the case that you can deploy that.”

That imposes a challenge on the manufacturers to maintain support for previous iterations of their products, but Thomas Hou said Sungrow will do so for ZEN Energy and its other customers in Australia.

“We’d like to make the commitment to the market and to our client that once we get our system locked in the model, we will deliver, maintain and service that.”

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