Energy lessons learnt: the Summer of 2023

Plico solar installers talk to female homeowner while installing solar panels on the roof of the home (demand)
Image: Plico

According to recent research from the International Energy Agency, Australia installed the most solar panels per capita of any country in the world in 2022, followed by the Netherlands and Germany.  

In Western Australia, solar accounted for 21% of power generated for the state’s grid, ranked second to South Australia among the states, meanwhile the Australian PV Institute affirmed in WA, only around 7% of solar installations include a battery.

In WA, the state experienced 49 consecutive days without rainfall, and according to the Bureau of Meteorology, the longest dry spell of similar length was more than a decade ago in 2010. In fact, it was their third driest summer on record (since 1876) and their mean max temperatures were generally above average.

Related article: WA’s first Virtual Power Plant activated during heatwave

But what does that really mean for the future of our powering our homes across Australia?

Plico CEO Robbie Campbell said the solar panel messaging from the last decade has clearly hit home.

“Aussies are great at solar panel installations, aided somewhat with then incentive of energy tariffs, but now we have an audience conditioned to only putting solar panels on our roof.  People think they have done everything they can to control energy costs.  Our research indicates people are generally unaware of the benefits of complementing solar panels with a battery system,” Campbell said.

“If we truly want to transition to renewable energy for our homes and businesses, the industry has a significant education campaign ahead of us to ensure households and businesses alike understand that installing solar panels only does half the job.”

According to Campbell, as the climate continues to warm and average temperatures increase, the demand for electricity, especially peak demand, particularly during our summer months will also increase.  Expect power usage to continue to surge putting pressure on the grid.  

“With more continual max temperatures, it means we should expect more dry, hot days driving up power usage at night which will continue to put pressure on the grid.  If you don’t have a battery, you will potentially continue to lose power to your business or home,” he said.

But Campbell also says there was some good news.

“The summer of 2023 in WA will go down in history as a season of firsts for renewable energy.”

“This summer was the first time a collection of associated individual, independent household solar and battery systems in Perth united to form a virtual power plant (VPP). And was successfully switched on. We shouldn’t call it a virtual power plant, its misleading. It’s real, it happened, and it’s the way of the future in transitioning away from fossil fuels. We now need to roll this out across Australia,” Campbell said.

“Thanks to the forward-thinking energy system operator, we were contracted to provide additional capacity to the grid over summer to meet supply shortages. When we have consecutive hot days, households naturally use more power, and when this happens day-after-day it strains the grid and its power reserves.”

Plico connected nearly 1,000 of its customers’ batteries to form one giant united battery, and fed stored energy from the sun back into the grid.  

The Plico Virtual Power Plant (VPP) was activated twice last Summer, in January and February, and contributed a total of 9.2MWh in grid support. This included 4.4MWh in additional energy to the grid when power usage was at its peak, between 5pm and 7pm. That supports approximately 2,000 homes.  

Campbell said its customers whose batteries contributed to the grid received payments far exceeding the cost of their energy and were never without power to their home. 

“This is just a taste of what could be done,” Campbell said.

“While Australia leads the race on solar panels, Western Australia can lay claim in being one of the first states in Australia, to have a virtual power plant contribute capacity to our grid and help to maintain its stability during times of peak demand.

“Our big picture is that we make clean energy accessible to every household by 2040. Imagine if we had thousands of batteries in every state across Australia, and we could connect and switch them on when we needed them the most. To stablise not just the grid, but the cost of energy in the future.

“The good news is now that we have proven it works, the race to broaden the virtual power plant is on, and it’s a race we will all benefit from, particularly if you have a solar and battery system.

Related article: 5 Minutes With: Plico CEO Robbie Campbell

“The main lesson learnt from the Summer of 2023; consider retro fitting or pairing a battery with solar, to reduce reliance on the grid and be part of future virtual power plant activations.

“We have all the ingredients, lots of sun and you can install batteries without big upfront costs, and we have some of the best battery technology in the world.

“We’ve grabbed hold of the EV transformation, now we need a home solar and battery revolution,” he said.  

“It’s the way we will power towards Net Zero and take back control.”

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