The Government of WA made headlines recently, when Energy Minister Bill Johnston announced Project Symphony, a Virtual Power Plant initiative that according to him, “will pave the way for Western Australians to access more energy options”.
However, the question remains unanswered and brings some others to the table. What is a Virtual Power Plant (VPP), how can power be virtual, and why am I continually hearing about VPPs as a solar PV and battery owner?
To start, let’s talk about the (virtual) elephant in the room – Virtual Power Plants. Although we could write a whole other entry on this topic alone, let’s settle for a mouthful, which we’ll slice and dice accordingly –
“A VPP is a network of homes with solar PV and a solar battery connected by software that can collectively send power back to the grid for stabilisation support or is traded on the national energy market (NEM) at peak daily price points (also known as the spot price).”
How can power be virtual?
Imagine your home for a moment. You have a solar PV + battery system installed which is connected to the grid, and lets you send your excess power to the grid via feed-in.
Now imagine your neighbourhood and suppose that every house in it has their own solar PV + battery system installed. Each house has independent arrays of panels and its own battery. We could wire the systems together so they could communicate, but what would happen if we needed to connect with someone’s battery across town, or interstate even? What would be the costs involved in infrastructure if we needed to do this?
The idea behind a VPP is to connect physically remote battery systems through software. This software is designed to implement the necessary communications and control infrastructure needed to manage a large number of these batteries, regardless of where they are.
As you may have noticed, virtual in this instance shouldn’t evoke the idea of Virtual Reality, but of intangible software installed into the batteries, which allows them to be controlled together and communicate with each other.
How is my energy traded and sold to the grid as part of a VPP?
Remember the software we were talking about? The energy trading comes down to the advances of that technology, backed by intelligent energy management and trading capabilities.
One company leading the way is an Australian company funded and backed by the Australian CSIRO – Evergen. Evergen has developed a consumer-friendly cloud-based solution that optimises your solar batteries’ performance, minute to minute, allowing solar PV and battery homeowners to have their battery power traded back to the grid when the grid spot price is at a high.
You, as an individual household, simply don’t have the amount of power necessary to play in the spot market, which is heavily dependent on supply and demand. Although selling 5 kWh back to the grid may not provide you with a beach house, collectively, we are stronger. As once quoted by Aesop in 550 BC “in union, there is strength”, and this is where things start getting interesting.
When joining a VPP, you join a larger community of solar PV and battery homeowners that can collectively trade a larger volume of power back to the grid. If this event coincides with a peak price in the market, then everyone in that VPP event will see a greater profit. Essentially, Evergen’s Intelligent Control software can do that and more for you.
So, are Virtual Power Plants the future of solar energy?
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released its two-decade outlook for the way Australia can generate the cheapest and most reliable electricity (Henderson, 2020). AEMO projects that ⅔ of our coal electricity generators will retire by 2040, opening the way for renewable sources. Solar will most likely play a big role when that happens.
Virtual Power Plants produce energy efficiently and optimise its usage, lowering costs; making them increasingly popular as emerging opportunities to maximise current and future solar investments.
All of this of course, comes with the warm and fuzzy feelings of helping both the environment and your community. And since the consumption of electricity gets closer to the point of generation, there is a quantifiable decrease in energy loss due to transportation, making our homes and cities more efficient than ever.
How do I join the Members Energy VPP?
To join our VPP, there are a few requirements and steps you must first take that will enable you to enter what really is, the future of energy:
Step 1. Have a solar PV and battery system installed by a reputable retailer
Step 2. Ensure that your Battery can integrate with the Evergen software by purchasing one of the following approved batteries:
- Tesla Powerwall
- Hive Solar Batteries
Step 3. Change your energy provider to an approved Evergen energy provider, like Members Energy.
Step 4. Download and Install the Evergen and Members Energy Mobile Application (available on both the Apple App Store and Google Play)
Step 5. Watch your trading credits roll in!
Simply put, joining the Members Energy VPP offers more than just profits, you are being a part of the future, today. VPPs provide us with an opportunity to contribute to reducing our reliance on the grid, burning of coal and allows us to take advantage of Australia’s best form of 100% renewable, clean energy… the sun!