The Western Australian government has announced a $35 million pilot program to integrate behind-the-metre generators such as rooftop solar and home batteries into virtual power plants and into the WA grid.
The program, dubbed “Project Symphony”, would pave the way for a grid in which virtual power plants are a standard, common and well-regulated source of power for WA’s standalone electricity network. It mirrors similar trials under way on the National Energy Market, the grid that serves the eastern states and South Australia.
The Australian Energy Market Operator is involved in the program, as are the state-owned power companies, grid operator Western Power and generator-retailer Synergy.
WA energy minister Bill Johnston said the initiative should “demonstrate how large numbers of batteries, rooftop solar panels and large appliances, such as air conditioners and electric hot water systems, can be coordinated into a virtual power plant”.
The pilot will be conducted in the suburb of Southern River in Perth, where around 50 per cent of homes have rooftop solar, and is expected to involve around 500 households and businesses.
Mr Johnston said the WA government would put up $27 million for the program, and hoped to get the remaining $8 million from the federal government.
A spokeswoman for the WA government said the project would involve “validating the value to the WA grid, designing and building test platforms, testing end-to-end transactions and putting together knowledge sharing packages”.
Around half of the budget would go towards IT components, she said. Asked about the cost per household -a averaging $70,000 under the current budget, the spokeswoman said the budget allowed for an increase beyond 500 households.
“There are currently no turnkey solutions available and significant work is required in the design of software and communications platforms for Synergy, as the aggregator, Western Power as the distribution system operator and the Australian Energy Market Operator,” she said.
“There will also be funding associated with making sure that consumer equipment is able to meet the technical requirements needed for participation.”
Johnston said virtual power plants would reduce the need for coal or gas, laying “the groundwork for a future where household energy devices help keep the power system stable, enabling more and more renewable energy on the grid”.
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.