The South Australian government revealed its plan to give solar panels and Tesla batteries to at least 50,000 houses, in an effort to create a giant, interconnected virtual power plant.

South Australia has the world’s biggest battery established by Elon Musk’s earlier project to provide electricity for more than 30,000 homes. Since then, the state government has been looking for additional ways to address its energy problems, after a state-wide blackout was caused by a storm in 2016. The blackout raised questions about Australia’s energy security, even though the country is one of the world’s largest producers of coal and gas.

Moreover, numerous ageing coal-fired power plants have already closed, while strong demand for gas exports and a rise in onshore gas drilling bans have fuelled concerns of a looming domestic energy shortage in the next few years

Virtual power plant

South Australia’s premier, Jay Weatherhill, introduced a trial version of the virtual power plant, planning to install 5kW solar panels and Tesla batteries on 1,100 Housing Trust homes.

A network of solar panels linked to rechargeable batteries will be provided free to households. It will be financed by the sale of excess electricity generated by the network, while the power generated by the solar panels and batteries would not be directly owned by the households.

After a successful trial, the program will be extended to additional 24,000 housing properties and households during the next 4 years, eventually hoping to connect at least 50,000 Adelaide units.

The plan’s goal is to create a 250-megawatt power plant, which would decrease electricity bills by 30%. The program will be supported with a state government grant of  Aus$2 million (US$1.6 million) and a Aus$30 million loan from a taxpayers renewable technology fund.

My government has already delivered the world’s biggest battery, now we will deliver the world’s largest virtual power plant. We will use people’s homes as a way to generate energy for the South Australian grid, with participating households benefiting with significant savings in their energy bills. 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.

The registration of interest was opened on Sunday, for people wiling to participate in the scheme. A market notice seeking a retailer to deliver the program, that would increase competition in the market, will be announced later this week.

Stakeholders response

The Smart Energy Council believes that the creation of the world’s biggest virtual power plant will enable South Australians to obtain energy bills savings. “Virtual power plants allow families to take control of their power bills, while providing greater security for the energy network”.

According to Tesla, the virtual power plant will have 250 megawatts of solar energy and 650 megawatt hours of battery storage. “At key moments, the virtual power plant could provide as much capacity as a large gas turbine or coal power plant”.

The virtual power plant program has also become a powerful political tool for the Liberal opposition party. In light of the forthcoming elections in South Australia, the Liberals, lead by Steven Marshall, unveiled a similar plan to install solar panels and batteries in at least 40,000 homes.

Snezana Sokolovska

Snezana has extensive international background and business media experience. She is covering e-mobility, autonomous vehicles and smart technology at Electric Think.

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