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SA Power Networks: Facilitating renewable generation

On November 21, 2021, SA Power Networks—an investment business of Spark Infrastructure and the sole electricity distributor in South Australia—recorded a world-first for a gigawatt-scale grid: negative demand. For a four-hour period, output from South Australia’s ubiquitous rooftop solar panels exceeded local power needs. The milestone help underscore the grid’s increasingly two-way nature.

Coal still supplies around 60% of Australia’s electricity, but that’s changing as Australians embrace rooftop solar. Uptake of solar power accelerated during the pandemic, as Australians invested heavily in home improvements. In 2021 alone, Australia added 3 GW of new solar capacity. The increasing penetration of clean and lower-cost solar power is challenging the economics of coal, with remarkable effect: some of the country’s largest coal-fired plants are now set to close years earlier than previously expected.

The changes have led SA Power Networks to re-envision its operating model. Traditionally, the company’s focus was on building and repairing its substations, poles and wires to ensure South Australians had power. Now, it’s looking at a future in which it will manage the secure and efficient multi-dimensional exchange of electricity across the whole system.

In practice, that means advising customers on new technologies and energy management options—such as which panels to install. It also means making it easier for households to connect their own equipment to the network and sharing data to enable customers to get optimal use of that equipment. Making this all work on a larger scale has led SA Power to take a whole new approach to planning, including identifying ways to meet growing demand without augmenting its own network, and preparing its workforce to not only perform core utility services but to also communicate more closely with customers. 

“Ontario Teachers' combines financial acumen for driving long term value with a belief in making the world a better place. It's these two factors that make Ontario Teachers' a strong shareholder in Spark Infrastructure. With Ontario Teachers' support we and our electricity network businesses are working to lead the sustainable reduction in emissions through investing smart electricity grid infrastructure and facilitating renewable generation opportunities.”

Gerard Dover, Acting CEO,
Spark Infrastructure