WA’s Virtual Power Plant to the rescue during heatwave

Plico van in driveway of residence having Plico solar installed on the roof (virtual power plant grid)
Plico installing solar + battery systems and activating VPP

With temperatures at or above 35°C, Western Australia has activated its Virtual Power Plant (VPP) for an unprecedented three consecutive days to prevent widespread blackouts and stabilise the grid.

Western Australian clean energy company Plico was officially activated from January 14-16 by the energy system operator AEMO to provide additional megawatt capacity to the grid through its 1,900-plus customer’s solar and battery systems.

Related article: 5 Minutes With: Plico CEO Robbie Campbell

This is the second summer Plico’s VPP is on peak demand standby, with its first successful activations occurring in January and February 2023, where using cutting-edge technology, all Plico systems acted as one giant battery to export energy to the grid during peak usage.

Nine megawatts of Plico’s power storage capacity was dispatched each day between the hours of 5:30pm and 7:30pm to support the grid. This is one of the most significant contributions ever made by an activated VPP aggregator (outside of trials) to the energy market across Australia.

Plico CEO Robbie Campbell said the clean energy provided to the grid was due to the combination of high temperatures, anticipated high-power usage, and existing low power reserves.

“The VPP worked as it is designed to do; to provide additional power to offset the high household demand that would have otherwise strained the grid. We estimate the additional power we sent to the grid each day has saved approximately 2,000 households (equivalent to the number of dwellings in the suburb of Mount Claremont) from a potential blackout. It takes the strain off the grid on consecutive hot days,” Campbell said.

“This heatwave naturally challenges the power system, especially during periods of extended and extreme weather. To avoid power disruptions to homes during such events, we provide additional clean energy power to the grid to help deal with the extra demand and bump up the reserves.

“To turn the heatwave into something good and provide clean energy back to the grid so houses don’t lose power, is why we exist. In a world where we demand action on climate change and being less reliant on fossil fuels, this is another opportunity to demonstrate the true power of a VPP, all through WAs sunlight and battery systems,” he said.

In the instance of a VPP activation, Plico assumes control of the customer’s battery remotely, and sets it to store energy during the day. This enables the systems to export energy back to the grid later when it was most needed. Plico batteries discharged directly to the grid for two hours, between 5:30pm and 7:30pm.

AEMO identified a potential reserve shortfall of 326MWh in WA’s main power system over summer and has sought additional capacity from energy providers to cover this shortfall. Plico is one of the companies contracted to provide additional capacity to the grid during emergency peak demand periods.

Campbell said that using existing solar and battery infrastructure means the VPP is both a flexible and a cost-effective solution for grid stablisation.

Related article: Heatwave sets peak electricity demand record in Queensland

“As the infrastructure already exists, we don’t have to invest millions into new hardware or infrastructure. It’s also flexible to be able to be activated with minimal notice. We’re now focused on growing our customer base to provide even greater megawatt support to the grid into the future,” he said.

“If an event occurs, we look after our Plico customers. We credit them for the energy stored in their battery, and for any energy they may have purchased from the grid during the activation. They also receive a VPP bonus payment of up to $100 just for being part our VPP. So, it’s a win for our forward-thinking customers, a win for the state and our planet,” Campbell said.

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