World’s largest virtual power plant to be built in South Australia

Posted on 7 Feb 2018 by Michael Cruickshank

A new 'virtual' solar power plant will be built in South Australia (SA) following a deal between the state government and Tesla.

Virtual Power Plant - A worker inspects a solar panel prior to installation - image courtesy of SunPower
A worker inspects a solar panel prior to installation – image courtesy of SunPower.

The South Australian government reportedly plans to use rooftop solar panels on up to 50,000 households to generate power which will then be stored in batteries located in each building.

These batteries will then be networked together using smart meters, and will dispense electricity whenever it is in demand. By working as a networked system the solar panels together form what is known as a ‘virtual power plant’.

Each home involved in the network will host a 5kW solar panel system and 13.5kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 battery.

All up, the virtual power plant will generate a total of 250MW and is expected to drive down the price of electricity for the homes involved in the project.

“My government has already delivered the world’s biggest battery, of now we will deliver the world’s largest Virtual Power Plant,” said SA Premier Jay Weatherill.

“We will use people’s homes as a way to generate energy for the South Australian grid, with participating households benefitting with significant savings in their energy bills.”

Phased roll-out

The SA government plans to install the panels and batteries in several stages over the course of the next four years.

In the first phase of this roll-out, 1,100 publicly-owned housing properties will be outfitted with the hardware and networked together as a small-scale trial. This will then be expanded to a further 24,000 public housing properties.

After this, the local government plans to open up the system to participation by any SA household which wishes to join and expects at least 50,000 households to be integrated into the system over a four-year period.

While the project will receive a small AUD$2m grant from the Australian government to get it off the ground, the total estimated cost of the virtual power plant is expected to be around AUD$800m.

As such, where the remainder of the funding for the project will come from is so far unclear, with the SA government only going so far as to say that it expects ‘investors’ will provide this cash.

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