SA government introduces 'virtual power plant'

The government predicts the project will provide 20% of the state’s average daily energy requirements.

As the South Australian government fights a state election where Labor is in a three-way battle for power with the Coalition and Nick Xenophon’s SA Best party, it has announced plans to build a 250MW “virtual power plant”, linking household rooftop solar and battery storage.

Beginning with a trial of 1100 low-income Housing SA (social housing) properties, the project aims to connect at least 50,000 households over the next four years, in what it says will be the largest virtual power plant in the world.

Each property will be fitted with a 5kW solar panel system and 13.5kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 battery, which will be installed at no charge to the household and financed through the sale of electricity.

The energy generated by the solar panels will be stored in the Tesla batteries and any excess energy will be fed back to the grid, which will be centrally controlled.

The government claims electricity costs for participating households will be cut by 30%. About 6500 people have already registered for the program and it may be extended if public interest remains high.

The project will ultimately create 650MWh of storage, allowing the combined resource to be pooled to help provide grid stability and extra capacity when supply is short.

It is expected to create more than 500 jobs over the next four years, 250 jobs from the installation of the solar panels and batteries and a further 260 in the supply chain.

The government predicts the project will mean an end to blackouts like the crippling statewide blackout in September 2016, as well as providing 20% of the state’s average daily energy requirements. Tesla said the virtual power facility could provide as much capacity as a large gas turbine or coal power plant.

The government’s website says: “Powerwall can detect an outage, disconnect from the grid, and automatically restore power to your home in a fraction of a second. As long as the battery has storage in it at the time, you will not even notice that the power went out.”

The program will be funded via a $2 million grant and a $30 million loan from a state-funded technology fund. The project has a total value of $800 million, most of which will be funded by investors.

“My government has already delivered the world’s biggest battery, and now we will deliver the world’s largest virtual power plant,” Premier Jay Weatherill said on February 4. “Our energy plan means that we are leading the world in renewable energy and now we are making it easier for more homes to become self-sufficient.”

Social Housing Minister Zoe Bettison said people in social housing can often struggle to meet their everyday needs and this initiative will take some pressure off their household budgets.

“But all South Australians will also benefit from the increased generation in the South Australian energy mix, with lower energy prices and increased energy stability,” she said.

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