Virtual Power Plant For Western Australia’s Goldfields?

Goldfields solar energy project

The Western Australian Government has announced it will proceed with providing half a million dollars to finance the development of a proposal for a virtual power plant (VPP) trial in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

A virtual power plant is a network of decentralised power generation and storage sources, in this case solar panels and batteries. These resources are coordinated by a central control software system that taps into the stored energy of participating systems during periods of peak demand to supply the mains grid.

Participants in a virtual power plant may already own or lease the solar + storage systems, receive a significant discount on solar equipment, or in some cases households with panels may get solar batteries for free. Participants agree to allow the VPP operator to access some of their stored energy when it’s required and may receive payment for this energy depending on the nature of the arrangement.

VPP Bypasses Goldfields Large-Scale Solar Challenges

A preliminary assessment (PDF) carried out by Ernst & Young (EY) of the viability of large-scale solar projects in Western Australia’s Goldfields found significant land, network and commercial challenges are currently stalling development. However, the assessment states a virtual power plant could bypass many of these issues.

“A VPP has the potential to achieve multiple positive outcomes, including increasing the amount of energy available in the Goldfields, trialling innovative power technologies, supporting grid stability and management strategies, and helping WA move forward on emissions reduction,” said Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development will work in collaboration with the Public Utilities Office, Western Power and Lands agencies in the development of the proposal, which may include recommending installations on public housing; providing tenants with a way to reduce their electricity bills.

Currently in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder region (postcodes 6430/6432) there are approximately 1,500 small-scale solar power systems installed, with a collective capacity just over 6MW.

More Land Needed For Solar Power

The Ernst & Young assessment also urged the Western Australian Government to engage with large mining companies to support their investment in solar through making adjacent land available for renewable energy projects. Additionally, it  proposed commencing a process to provide access to pastoral land for solar development.

“These actions are not intended to be exclusive of one another. They can be commenced immediately and pursued concurrently,” said EY.

Heeding the assessment findings, the McGowan Government has also committed to making land available for future large-scale renewable energy development in the region, which it says will coincide with the implementation of network regulation changes in 2022.

There’s certainly a pressing need for something to be done. EY states it understands there is 50 to 120 megawatts (MW) of latent demand for grid electricity in the Goldfields region.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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