Virtual power plant designed using rooftop solar and battery systems

The recently released pilot results in New South Wales indicate that solar panel and battery systems are fast becoming viable resources for regulating the main electricity grid.

The trials by Networks Renewed were carried out by the UTS-based Institute for Sustainable Futures using $1.87 million fully financed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

There are claims that relying on renewables like wind and solar can cause fluctuations in the voltage of the electricity grid.

This is simply because renewables vary in terms of the volume of electricity generated over a 24-hour period. As such, the distribution network will experience lower (or higher) voltage than expected.

According to the trials, a combination of battery storage and solar PV systems can hugely contribute to grid stability any time of the day.

Virtual power plant results show a bright future

The pilot program which has been carried out in Collombatti, New South Wales for the past 12 months, combined smart solar systems, solar inverters and solar battery systems to help control grid voltage.

Twenty five solar panels were used to develop a virtual power plant. The virtual power plant is aimed at supporting the grid when the voltages are low or high by effectively generating and storing electricity.

These ‘network support services’ will then be requested via a bidding process that ordinarily relies on the coal or gas-fired power stations.

Notably, Essential Energy, one of the partners to the trial’s New South Wales network managed to place bids to provide network support from the virtual station.

This means if the voltage drops in one part of the electricity grid, the virtual power plant would top it up.

Essential Energy had already placed two bids in late September for support from the solar-powered virtual power plant. The power station generated over 50kW of electricity, boosting the local voltage by 1.73%, an impressive outcome.

Ramping up rooftop solar and battery systems to a commercial scale

The next phase of the program involves extending the trials to more significant, market scales. This will see industry partners set up realistic, market-scale demonstrations in New South Wales and Victoria.

The outcome would confirm how renewables and smart inverter technologies are a viable commercial option for delivering efficient network support services.

The many demonstrations will also play a critical role in ensuring meaningful improvements to the quality of power supplied, and generate adequate revenue from the market to develop a solid business case for subsequent projects.

Apparently, about 150 electricity consumers in both New South Wales and Victoria will participate in the trial. If the trial is successful, it will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that solar and battery storage can effectively support larger networks.

This is also expected to promote the uptake of solar panels and battery systems by the industry and businesses.

The Author

I took an interest in the Australian energy sector close to ten years ago and since then have monitored the trends, technologies and direction of the Australian Energy Market. I was drawn to the Australian solar market in 2008 and since then have worked heavily in the field. I am partnered with national and international solar energy companies, from manufacturers of solar panel and inverter technology, online software developers that introduce tools to quote, monitor and manage solar power systems and media organisations who like myself, closely monitor the solar and renewable energy sector.