Australia’s wide-open spaces get a lot of sun and Aussies are capturing it to fuel what have been dubbed “virtual power plants.”
Utility companies and state governments are cooperating to link rooftop solar panels and in-home batteries in local networks connected to the grid. Grids can call on the networks’ energy at times of peak demand, using computer intelligence to aggregate and manage the flow of electricity as needed.
Virtual power plants help grid utilities meet peak demand without building power plants that would be used only occasionally. Homeowners whose energy supplies are tapped collect a check for selling electricity to the grid at peak rates.
More broadly, renewable power that’s generated isn’t wasted but can flow into the grid, allowing utilities to throttle back generation at nuclear, coal-, or oil-fired central plants.
In the latest example, Western Australia’s state government is shepherding Project Symphony, which connects more than 500 homes, each with rooftop solar panels and home batteries.
The government has offered to subsidize home battery purchases on the condition that utilities can take power from the batteries as needed during peak periods.
Eventually, but not yet, virtual plants will be able to include electric vehicles and their batteries.
Australia has the world’s largest penetration of rooftop solar systems in residential markets, according to the federal government’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy, and Resources.
Rooftop solar panels generated 65 percent of the power consumed earlier this year in Western Australia’s South West Interconnected System, a utility network covering more than 60,000 miles of transmission and distribution wires, the system reported.
TRENDPOST: As we’ve reported previously (“…and goodbye, electric grid,” 22 October, 2015), utility companies are looking at a future in which their chief task will be managing the distribution of electricity, not generating it.
Increasingly, generating power will be the province of microgrids and distributed power systems. Australia is showing the rest of the world how that will look.