Award-winning trial boosts Virtual Power Plant (VPP) performance

VPP Energy Transformation Taskforce, AEMC, social energy, SA Power Networks, home battery, solar homes

SA Power Networks has released the final report on its award-winning ‘Advanced VPP Grid Integration’ Project, following a successful 21-month field trial involving 1000 South Australian households with solar and batteries.

VPPs are expected to play an increasingly important role in the energy system as the transition to renewable energy continues. 

In this world-first trial, SA Power Networks worked with Tesla and CSIRO to show how VPP performance can be as much as doubled using innovative new approaches to grid integration, unlocking greater value for customers and VPP operators. 

This was achieved by implementing an interface between SA Power Networks and Tesla’s VPP to provide real-time data on the spare capacity available to accommodate exports in each part of the distribution network. 

SA Power Networks GM strategy and transformation Mark Vincent said, “By continually adapting to the changing condition of the local network, each VPP participating site was able to export more power to the grid than if operating on the standard fixed 5kW per phase limit, significantly increasing the VPP’s ability to trade in the energy market and provide valuable frequency balancing services to the grid.

Related article: SA Power Networks and ARENA trial new approach to integrate rooftop solar with grid

“The capabilities developed in this project will help VPP operators create more value for customers from their investment in Distributed Energy Resources (DER) and will enable distribution network operators to integrate more and larger VPPs with the network without the need for costly network upgrades. 

“This will increase the opportunity for customers’ DER to help the overall system run more efficiently, and also deliver more community value from existing network assets, helping to keep prices lower for all.” 

The $2 million project was supported with $1 million of funding from ARENA as part of their Advancing Renewables Program.

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It commenced in January 2019 and the field trial, which ran from July 2019 to March 2021, successfully demonstrated:

  • The ability to increase VPP output beyond the normal 5kW per-site export limit safely and without breaching local network constraints.
  • The ability to increase revenues for the VPP operator during real market trading in both Frequency Control Ancillary Services (FCAS) and wholesale energy markets.
  • The ability to increase the VPP’s total export capacity from 5MW to an average of 6-8MW during solar hours.
  • The ability to estimate distribution network hosting capacity down to individual low-voltage transformer areas with limited data, using a template-based model.
  • Real-world robustness and scalability of the technical solution, which was built using enterprise-grade systems designed to support hundreds of thousands of devices and multiple VPPs.
  • The use of telemetry data from the VPP to improve visibility of the low voltage network. The trial demonstrated the use of this data to analyse local voltage issues, improve network hosting capacity, and improve community safety through the ability to detect neutral faults.

SA Power Networks won the Energy Networks Australia 2020 Industry Innovation Award and the Best Use of Technology Award at the 2020 Digital Utility Awards for this project.

The final industry Knowledge Sharing Report is available here.