Australia tests residential solar+storage as a virtual power plant

Project Symphony will investigate the use of distributed energy resources in Western Australia’s energy market.

The Au$35.5 million (US$25 million) project being led by the Western Australia state power supplier Western Power aims to recruit around 500 customers with over 900 distributed energy resources including rooftop solar, batteries, and smart appliances to manage as a virtual power plant (VPP).

As the project evolves, additional assets will be brought online with the involvement of third-party aggregators.

The aim of the project is to explore and better understand how the use of the distributed resources can provide benefits to customer affordability and network security, reduce emissions and help strengthen the state economy and the wholesale energy market.

The project was launched earlier in the year with funding of Au$26.9 million from the Western Australia government and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). Additional funding of Au$8.6 million has now been made available by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

“The rapid growth in distributed energy resource uptake reflects households taking advantage of the rapid development of new technology to store and manage energy, bolstered by recent state government incentive packages,” comments ARENA CEO Darren Miller.

“However, without appropriate coordination, network operators may be required to curtail distributed resource output to manage constraints. Project Symphony aims to address these issues and highlight the benefits that orchestration can provide to consumers and the energy system.”

Funding for the project, in which Western Australia energy retailer Synergy also is participating, will go towards the development, integration and testing of software systems that manage energy distribution, market operation, and market aggregation. Together, these will underpin the effective monitoring and coordination of a high volume of mostly customer-distributed assets.

If successful the project should help to identify the investment required to further expand the role of distributed resources, while supporting the ongoing reliability and security of the state’s main electricity network, the South West Interconnected System, within current market structures.

New rooftop solar PV rules

Project Symphony appears to be timely, with new rules coming into effect in Western Australia on 14 February 2022 that new or upgraded solar panels are installed with the capability to be remotely turned off for short periods when demand for electricity reaches a critically low level.

Australia has seen the highest rate of rooftop solar PV uptake in the world. In Western Australia, currently 1.7GW of rooftop solar PV serves over one out of every three households and almost 25% of the South West Interconnected System capacity mix.

Remotely switching off solar panels will be used as a last resort to prevent widespread power interruptions and is expected to occur only a few times a year and for only a few hours.

Power stations will be turned down first with rooftop residential solar the last to be impacted.

The measure will not affect homes with existing solar panels and is intended to allow the continued uptake of solar panels without increasing costs, according to a government statement.