What does a government do when its major utilities cannot meet the needs of the people they exist to serve? How about letting the community generate their own power? That’s the idea behind the “world’s largest virtual power plant” which is slated to be constructed over the next 4 years in South Australia. The effort will combine residential rooftop solar panels with Tesla Powerwall batteries that will be installed on at least 50,000 homes.
A new Tesla video titled South Australian Virtual Power Plant | Powerwall & Solar explains the project and its potential. The Government of South Australia has also released an information and application page on its website, describing how the state is embarking on the largest deployment of residential energy storage in the world. On it, the government reaffirms its support for Tesla’s virtual power plant (VPP) and invites South Australians who wish to participate in the program to register.
“Powerwall can detect an outage, disconnect from the grid, and automatically restore power to your home in a fraction of a second,” the South Australian government’s virtual power plant FAQ section reads. “As long as the battery has storage in it at the time, you will not even notice that the power went out.”
Electricity reliability has become a point of contention in South Australian politics, with accusations that South Australians have been left with the highest energy prices in Australia and the least reliable grid. The South Australian government claims the virtual power plant’s estimated 250MW will cut electricity costs by 30% for participating households.
Video Analysis of a Virtual Power Plant
“Meet the world’s largest virtual power plant,” the video starts. It fades into a map and grid with dots pointing to a series of locations. “Designed with the South Australian government to support the state’s energy needs…”
The state website states that the new 250 megawatt virtual power plant has been designed to:
- Lower energy prices
- Provide increased stability to the grid
- Provide protection during a grid outage
- Increase customer’s visibility of their energy use via a real-time app
- Reduce the use of fossil fuels
After a brief pause, the video continues: “…and decrease energy bills across the community while providing additional stability to the grid. Connecting a growing network of homes and businesses.” The illustrations in the video show a series of interconnected homes with virtual power flowing between them.
Analysis by Frontier Economics shows that the new 250MW virtual power plant will indeed lower energy bills for participating households by around 30%. Additionally, it suggests that all South Australians will benefit through lower energy prices and increased energy stability.
The video beautifully depicts power flowing between the homes, simulating the shared, distributed nature of a residential virtual power plant. To get started, the project will start with a trial phase involving 1,100 SA Housing Trust properties. Each home will have a 5kW rooftop solar PV system installed that will be paired with an on-location 5kW/13.5kWh Tesla Powerwall home battery. A smart meter will keep them playing nicely and talk to the central operations center that keeps the whole VPP in balance.
Since launching, the program has received over 37,000 online registrations of interest. The program will first work to cut electricity costs for those who need financial relief the most. If the program is extended beyond the initial trial phase, the power generated from the energy systems on SA Housing Trust homes will be aggregated, and the benefits will be distributed to all SA Housing Trust tenants who sign up.
The first installs in private residences will commence in 2019 subject to the success of the trial phase. Installation prioritization will be determined during the trial phase, assuming everything goes according to plan. It will take into account the geographical spread for installation efficiency combined with optimizing the security of the distribution network.
Tesla will review all properties to determine whether or not they are able to support a system and can participate in the program. Some of the key considerations are whether or not the property is physically able to accommodate the solar PV system and Powerwall, the orientation of the property for solar access, and any potential shading of the solar PV. Renewal SA will also provide advice on suitable properties to ensure that installations complement existing regeneration programs. Households interested in participating in the program should register their interest at www.virtualpowerplant.sa.gov.au.
The video highlights the fact that, “installations have already commenced,” simulating the actual installations with blue does on the expanding map. It continues, highlighting how the virtual power plant decreases dependence on fossil fuel and shows how the SA Government is, “Transitioning our world to sustainable energy.” The phrase is an allusion to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Master Plan Deux, in which he said, “We must at some point achieve a sustainable energy economy.”
A virtual power plant works by aggregating distributed energy generation, consumption and storage. In this case, energy generated from the rooftop 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 and distributed to the rest of the grid as needed.
Politics, Powerwalls, and Power to the South Australian People
The VPP plan was nearly stopped by the new Liberal state government headed by Steven Marshall, who was elected in March, 2018. Marshall’s government had their own plan to offer discounts on battery storage for 40,000 homes.
However, Energy Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan announced at the Australian Energy Conference in May that the newly elected government would proceed with both plans. “It’s very important to be clear about this—we are honoring the existing commitments around the Tesla virtual power plant,” he said. “We’ll show the world how the mass adoption of home batteries can and will work. This is a complicated task — I don’t think that anyone has attempted to do what we’re about to do at this scale relative to population and market size.”
The energy minister said his first meeting after being sworn in was with Tesla, and he wants the state to become a world leader in home battery installation.
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