Robbie Campbell 20/06/2024 15 min read

Australia’s power future could be virtually guaranteed

As the severe heatwave moves across Australia initially in Western Australia, Queensland and now New South Wales, it’s only going to get tougher as our climate continues to warm, and demand for energy continues to increase. 

Our average temperatures are on the way up, as is the surging demand for power which is putting pressure on the grid.  With grid instability comes the potential for blackouts and I expect many families and businesses have already suffered in darkness. 

Last summer WA 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 WA’s third driest summer on record (since 1876) with mean max temperatures generally above average. 

The challenge we have now in Australia, is time is against us; we need solutions quickly to stem grid instability, and the need for rolling blackouts to manage demand. 

We’re part way there but we are scrambling to fully transition to a clean energy solution.  According to 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 WA, solar accounts for 21 per cent of power generated for our grid, ranking us second to South Australia amongst the states. It’s something we can be proud of, but solar panels only do half the job and solar power pushed onto the grid is difficult to control. 

Additionally, only around 7 per cent of solar installations include a battery. 

So, what does that really mean for us and the future of our powering our homes, not just in WA but across Australia? 

We’re clearly great at installing solar panels, aided somewhat with the then incentive of feed-in 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 and be part of the renewable energy transition.  Our research indicates people are generally unaware of the benefits of complementing solar panels with a battery system. 

Like the feed-in tariff transformed Australia into a solar panel powerhouse, we need a similar incentive to encourage households to install home battery systems. 

Because now it’s bigger than just installing a battery system into your home.  That single home battery system when integrated into Plico’s Virtual Power Plant (VPP), has demonstrated the potential to revolutionise our future power grid demand.  The VPP introduces flexibility, efficiency, and resilience into the energy ecosystem. It transforms the traditional model of centralised energy generation and distribution, paving the way for a more sustainable and adaptive power grid. 

A VPP is a collection of associated individual, independent household solar and battery systems, known as distributed energy resources (DER), that are united remotely to form a VPP.  The Plico VPP uses cutting edge technology including Amp X who provides their proprietary VPP digital energy platform to enable monitoring, control and optimised dispatch of Plico’s systems. 

VPPs can be managed to bring the grid back into balance under both minimum demand and peak demand scenarios. When there is minimum demand, energy supply to the grid is high and energy demand on the grid is low. This can occur in the middle of mild sunny days when solar exports to the grid are high but there is low demand from homes, business and industry. Peak demand is when the opposite occurs; energy supply to the grid is low and demand is high. This usually occurs on hot summer evenings when energy demand increases just as solar exports start to decrease. 

When the VPP is activated in a peak demand scenario, Plico assumes control of the customer’s battery remotely, and set it to store and conserve energy during the day.  This enables the systems to export energy back to the grid later when it was most needed between 5:30pm and 7:30pm.   

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) identified a potential reserve shortfall of 326 MW in WA’s main power system over summer and sought additional capacity from energy providers, like Plico, to cover this shortfall.  

We shouldn’t call it a Virtual Power Plant, its misleading.  It’s real, it’s a success, and it’s the way of the future in transitioning away from fossil fuels.  

This is our second summer our VPP has been on peak demand standby, with our first successful activations occurring in January and February 2023. 

In 2024, we’ve been activated again and this time for an unprecedented three consecutive days from 14 – 16 January by AEMO, and we provided additional MW capacity to the grid through our 1,900+ customer’s solar and battery systems.   

Nine MW of power storage capacity was dispatched each day, and we estimate the additional power we sent to the grid saved 2,000 households (equivalent to the number of dwellings in the suburb of Mount Claremont, WA) from a potential blackout. That’s 6,000 homes saved in total, across the three days.   

Importantly, during this process our Plico customers are looked after.  We credit them for the energy stored in their battery, and for any additional electricity cost they may incur during an activation. They also receive a VPP bonus payment of up to $100 just for being part the VPP. So, it’s a win for everyone. 

This article is taken from an opinion piece by Plico CEO, Robbie Campbell in PV Magazine. You can read the full article here

 

Want to join the clean energy revolution? You can view our different solar + battery systems by clicking here or calculate your projected savings with our Solar Savings Calculator. You can also get in touch with one of our switched-on team members by calling 1300 175 426 to see how a solar + battery system can help you save.  

 

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Robbie Campbell

Robbie has been Plico's Chief Executive Officer since 2022. He has led the company through the launch of WA's first privately-funded Virtual Power Plant (VPP) and a period of significant growth and product diversification. Robbie joined Plico as our Chief Financial Officer and has a wealth of experience in the finance sector. He is a strategic thinker who looks at the bigger picture while also analysing the finer details. Robbie is committed to growing the business into new markets across Australia and further establishing Plico as a leader in the industry.

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