Australia: Queensland rolls out virtual power plant project

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The state of Queensland, like Hawaii, is becoming somewhat of a test bed for solar markets in which high PV penetration is causing challenges in terms of grid stability. In an attempt to meet this challenge and facilitate continuing solar installations, Queensland utility Ergon Energy Retail is rolling out a limited pilot program to assess the roll distributed solar+storage systems, with remote control capabilities, will have in stabilizing grids.

The Ergon project will see 33 SunPower solar arrays, each with a capacity of 4.9 kW, rolled out to select districts. The systems will be deployed with an intelligent energy management system and will be coupled with 12 kWh Sunverge battery systems. The pilot program will assess the impact the systems, forming a ‘virtual power plant’, have on grids in terms of managing solar feed in, supplying demand management services and reducing peak loads.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is supporting the pilot program with a AUD$400,000 (US$293,000) grant.

“The project will trial a ‘virtual power plant’ model by installing a number of centrally monitored and controlled solar/storage systems in Cannonvale, Toowoomba and Townsville, Queensland,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknech, in a statement. “Ergon Energy Retail has agreed to share some key learning with the energy industry, through ARENA. This will increase the understanding of how residential solar and storage can effectively increase the adoption of renewable energy in the National Electricity Market.”

SunPower will not only supply the solar+storage systems but will also design and install them. All 33 systems are expected to be in place by the end of the year.

“We commend Ergon Energy for its leadership in offering customers innovative energy solutions, including high performance SunPower solar power systems and reliable Sunverge energy storage technology,” said Tom Werner, president and CEO of SunPower. “This program gives participating homeowners a ‘Smart Energy’ solution that can deliver unprecedented levels of personalization, value and control, and will likely serve as a model for similar programs around the world.”

SunPower has been developing and trialing its ‘Smart Energy’ systems in Australia for over 12 months. Australia has high levels of residential solar penetration, with around one in five households nationally sporting a PV array. With limited tariffs paid for solar electricity being fed into the grid in most states and high electricity prices, Australia is emerging as a leading market in terms of solar+storage deployment.

Zero-feed-in provisions for solar arrays are also becoming increasingly common, as utilities fret about grid stability as PV penetration increases. In July RenewEconomy reported that on Queensland’s Ergon and Energex networks any solar system under 30 kW will receive automatic approval for grid connection if it is fitted with equipment to prevent it from exporting electricity back into the grid.