WA Smart Sun Pilot VPP Hailed A Success

Broome WA Smart Sun Pilot

The completed trial of what was regional Australia’s first Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in Broome, Western Australia has paved the way for similar projects to be rolled out.

Back In 2017, Horizon Power and DevelopmentWA teamed up for the Smart Sun pilot, a project involving 15 households in DevelopmentWA’s Waranyjarri Estate in Broome North.

Broome, a “fringe-of-grid” town, was facing challenges in relation to solar uptake around this time. Many residents who wanted to install solar panels weren’t permitted to due to Horizon only allowing 10 per cent of the town’s electricity to be supplied by solar energy in order to protect its fragile grid from fluctuations.

It remains a problem today. Horizon Power’s eligibility calculator returned a “no solar for you” message when I tried it last night; even for a piddly 1kW system.

Solar eligibility - Horizon Power

Horizon doesn’t even seem to offer an option of installing a system in Broome that is zero export limited, but does mention the rather pricey option of a system with “Extended Ramp Rate Smoothing and Feed-In-Management”.

VPP For Victory

Back to the trial. For just $5,000, participants scored a heavily-subsidised package consisting of a solar power system, battery, hot water heat pump and local energy management system; with all this along with air-conditioning orchestrated by the virtual power plant operator.

Collectively, the VPP consisted of:

  • 111 kW of solar panels
  • 95kW of inverter capacity
  • 105kW(h?) of battery storage
  • 51 air conditioners
  • 15 heat pumps
  • 15 energy management systems.

Ten of the VPP participants had their packages installed by the end of January 2019, and the remainder by the end of that year.

The following are some of the results of the virtual power plant trial:

  • $2,500 average saving per year on electricity costs per household.
  • Households saved up to 70% on their electricity bills.
  • There was 27% reduction in solar power flowing into the grid.
  • A 9% average peak reduction achieved through controlling air conditioners.
  • 30% reduction in upfront electricity infrastructure requirements.

“The VPP reduced the load put on the grid, especially at peak times,” says Horizon Power. “And without as much demand on the grid, it’s easier to access renewable energy. And that’s great for the entire community.”

But there’s obviously still a lot of work to do in Broome given residents can’t install new grid-connected solar at the moment.

More information on the Smart Sun pilot can be viewed here.

The trial has enabled Horizon Power and DevelopmentWA to build knowledge on how regional customers can connect renewable energy systems while maintaining grid stability. The pair intend further collaboration to integrate VPPs in new regional housing estates.

Commenting on the trial, Kimberley MLA Divina D’Anna said:

“The Smart Sun pilot has successfully demonstrated that it’s possible to reduce the costs associated with new regional developments and keep the community standard of living high.”

Since this trial originally commenced, VPPs have been popping up around Australia. Learn more about virtual power plants and compare VPP programs.

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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