In February, Tesla and the government of South Australia announced a plan to create the largest virtual power plant in the world — 50,000 5 kilowatt rooftop solar systems, each paired with a 13.5 kilowatt-hour battery for a total system output of 250 megawatts and 625 megawatt-hours of storage. So far, the installation of rooftop solar and storage batteries has been completed on 100 homes and the results are everything Tesla expected them to be.
In a recent statement, the government praised the first virtual power plant (VPP) systems for, “delivering cheaper energy to South Australians who need it most,” and increasing the reliability of the state’s energy network. The results of preliminary testing show that the Tesla Powerwalls installed in homes can deliver the same type of performance when it comes to providing rapid and accurate response to frequency changes as the grid-scale Tesla battery array installed in South Australia at the end of last year.
A report prepared by Tesla says, “This response demonstrates the ability of the SA VPP to autonomously and instantaneously provide frequency services that help maintain the stability of the grid.” Tesla’s conclusion was supported by the government, which says the Phase 1 trials demonstrate that distributed Powerwall batteries can increase the supply of energy during peak periods, which will increase reliability and cut electricity prices in South Australia “when paired with solar and wind.”
Michelle Lensink, South Australia’s minister for Human Services, tells Renew Economy, the Tesla VPP project was “incredibly beneficial” in that it offers much-needed electricity bill relief for Housing SA tenants. “This project gives South Australians huge help in paying excessive power bills as they struggle with daily cost of living expenses,” she said. The systems are installed with no money down and will be paid for over time as part of monthly utility charges. Even with those payments, the average monthly bills for the first 100 participants is about 30% less than they were paying for electricity previously.
In addition to completing the remainder of the Tesla Virtual Power Plant system, the Liberal government that came into power in March is expected to announce $100 million in grants to install battery storage systems on 40,000 more homes in South Australia. Other companies, particularly sonnen, will be involved in the battery storage aspects of the systems for those additional homes.
There are a number of VPP and microgrid trials going on across Australia, but the planned 250 MW installation is by far the largest virtual power plant proposal in the country or anywhere else in the world. Most organizations involved in the electricity industry in Australia, including CSIRO, network owners and the Australian Energy Market Operator agree that half of all demand will be met by distributed generation — including rooftop solar coupled to residential storage batteries — over the next few decades.
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