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Canberra takes energy innovation crown from South Australia

Canberra has pipped South Australia to the post for energy innovation as it carries out trials of the world’s largest virtual power plant.

The ACT has successfully trialled a virtual power plant built on residential batteries and demand management, taking on a heatwave and cutting demand to avoid major blackouts caused by short terms peaks.

“On the afternoon of 10 February, when the heatwave rolled through, our peak demand was about 637 megawatts," Canberra’s only electricity retailer Evoenergy branch manager for asset and network performance, Leylann Hinch, told Fairfax Media.

"We were able to curtail about 18 megawatts which ensured we didn’t hit the 650-megawatt mark, which would have been very high demand on that day," he said.

The virtual power plant's solar batteries were controlled from a central hub

This trial was one of several carried out by Evoenergy – the rebranded ActewAGL – which involved more than 400 solar-powered batteries, local residents reducing their energy load and two major users either curtailing consumption or switching to alternative power such as generators.

The system was remotely controlled by Evoenergy through a central hub, which could dispatch different levels of energy stored by residential batteries back into the network when needed.

“The VPP component of the trial was the world’s largest trial of residential solar battery systems known to date. The VPP was unique in that it involved simultaneously engaging with three technology platforms,” Evoenergy said.

People without batteries who have joined as part of the demand management trial are informed, via a text message, when the network operator needs them to reduce usage. Evoenergy said this could constitute something as simple as lowering their airconditioning a degree or two or not using their washing machine during peak times.

It is forecast that by 2020 this system will account for around 36 megawatts, or five per cent, of Canberra’s total peak load.

However, Evoenergy believes that demand management has to be a buy-in process and forcing consumers by cutting their power could have negative effects for users and the network.

"We avoided load shedding then by going out to our major customers and the public requesting them to reduce consumption, but we don’t believe it’s best practice to do this reactively during an emergency as the result is uncertain," Mr Hinch said.

"Through our Demand Management Program we are future-proofing the network by having programs and strategies already in place with large and small customers to respond at a moment’s notice and reduce the impact on the wider community."

While Canberra has carried out what is believed to be the largest trial of a virtual power plant made from residential solar battery systems in the world, South Australia has planned to create the world’s largest VPP, comprising 50,000 home solar systems backed by batteries, although its future now looks uncertain following a likely change in government following the weekend’s state election.

SOURCE: The Sydney Morning Herald

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