Originally published on One Step Off The Grid
by Sophie Vorrath
AGL Energy’s delivery of what would be the world’s largest virtual power plant – in South Australia – looks set to come in “well ahead of schedule,” after the utility announced on Thursday that it had already sold out its first round of 150 connected battery storage systems, with 350 second-phase battery systems now up for grabs.
AGL first announced plans to develop the ambitious VPP project in August – a centrally controlled network of 1,000 residential and business battery storage systems with a combined total of 7MWh capacity that would both store rooftop solar power and help manage grid stability in the state.
As we reported at the time, the trial comes at a critical time for South Australia, which has come under intense political and regulatory scrutiny as a world leader in the uptake of solar and wind, at the same time as shutting down its “baseload” coal powered generation.
The $20 million project is being developed over three phases in conjunction with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which has committed up to $5 million in funding to its roll-out.
The hardware for the VPP – the 1,000 battery systems – and the energy management software are being supplied by US-based energy management company, Sunverge, which got the job through competitive tender.
AGL has said the finished product, which will have an output equivalent to a 5MW solar peaking plant, will work by using a cloud-connected intelligent control system that will allow the batteries to be directed in unison: a strategy aimed at helping both consumers to maximise solar self-consumption, and the broader community to manage state-wide peaks in electricity demand.
AGL chief Andy Vesey has said on various occasions that he believes such centrally controlled networks of rooftop solar and battery storage will be a key ingredient of energy systems of the future – systems that will be centred around the consumer.
“We want to make sure we have the ability to deploy these all along the grid, where they have value,” Vesey told the Disruption and the Energy Industry conference co-hosted by RenewEconomy in Sydney in late August.
“People say it’s innovative, but we know we had to do it… It starts and ends with the consumer, and the consumer will in time be the one that controls the entire system based on the decisions and consumption they mark on a daily basis.”
In a statement marking the progress of the VPP project so far, AGL executive general manager of New Energy, Elisabeth Brinton, said the rapid uptake of the first battery offer had put the second round offer – which is now open to applications – well ahead of schedule.
“I am pleased that consumers have supported this industry-leading initiative which offers an innovative solution, not only to savings on energy bills, but also to potentially helping stabilise the grid,” Brinton said.
“Being a part of the VPP means our customers will be able to consume more energy generated from their own rooftop solar systems, lowering their power bills and reducing emissions.”
The 350 batteries on offer in the second phase of the trial will be available to AGL customers who live in Metropolitan Adelaide and meet the eligibility criteria, AGL said.
These customers will be able to purchase the Sunverge 11.6kWh battery at $3,849, which includes hardware, software and monitoring services and installation. This battery also includes 50 per cent more capacity than the first offer battery – customers who purchased a battery in the first round will be able to upgrade to the 11.6kWh unit at no extra cost.
AGL said it expects customers with “sufficient excess solar generation” to achieve system payback of seven years or less. Customers who don’t have solar, but want to take part in the trial can purchase an appropriately-sized system with their battery.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the Agency was supporting the VPP trial as part of its broader objective to make high renewables energy systems more stable, both in South Australia and nationally.
“Storing and delivering energy at individual houses means power is available very close to where it’s being used, and that has a range of benefits.” Mr Frischknecht said.
“Instead of getting electricity from large power stations outside cities that’s fed across long power lines, sometimes from different states, households can now use power from the sun, captured and stored from their own roofs.
Frischknecht said that central cloud-based controls meant that AGL would be able to operate the connected solar and battery systems like a typical power station, with even faster response times, discharging electricity to consumers’ homes during periods of high demand and supporting the grid during periods of instability.
“Ultimately, this means virtual power plants could be rolled out across the country to provide reliable, affordable renewable energy to Australians.”
But as COAG energy ministers continue to nut out how Australia’s National Electricity Market infrastructure and rules can be adapted to the increasing amount of renewable energy coming on line, Frischknecht also noted that influencing regulatory change was another of the project’s key goals.
“It’s important for regulators to see how these systems work in real networks so they can make evidence-based decisions when they’re updating market rules,” he said.
Meanwhile, in northern Adelaide, SA Power Networks has quietly installed the last of 100 battery storage systems in its own VPP trial – which the network points out makes it the largest one actually commissioned, for now, in Australia.
SAPN said on Thursday it was installing the final battery required for a unique three-year trial involving residential customers in Salisbury, in Adelaide’s northern suburbs; pairing a Tesla battery with a 3.2kW solar system.
As we report here, the network operator hopes the trial will help it avoid millions of dollars of costly network infrastructure additions in the Salisbury area.
People interested in being involved in the AGL trial or to check their eligibility to the program can register online at agl.com.au/powerinnumbers or call one of AGL’s battery experts on 1300 447 465.
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