Tesla Virtual Power Plant in Australia is proving that community-powered grids are feasible

(Credit: Tesla)

Tesla’s Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in South Australia is proving that a network of homes with residential solar and battery storage systems can be used to effectively aid the national electricity grid. The project is still in its early stages, but based on its performance so far, Tesla’s VPP is looking to be yet another disruptive force in Australia’s energy market.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) recently released the first report from its Virtual Power Plant Demonstration Program. The report showed how consumer devices, when aggregated and coordinated, can contribute to a secure electricity system in a real-world setting. Based on the report, the South Australia VPP has been tapped to support the region’s grid several times since its first phases were completed, and so far, the verdict has been resoundingly positive.

In October 2019, for example, the VPP was tapped to address an unexpected failure at one of the region’s biggest generating units at the Kogan Creek Power Station, which took out 748 MW of capacity. Immediately after the failure, the Tesla VPP detected the frequency excursion and responded quickly, helping in frequency recovery. The quickness of the Virtual Power Plant was impressive, and it hinted that a community-driven, sustainable backup system might very well be feasible.

Even in instances when the VPP underperformed, the system still showed potential. During the Victoria and South Australia regional separation event in November 2019, which left South Australia islanded for almost five hours, the Virtual Power Plant was only able to deliver 828 kW out of the needed 1 MW, as noted by Energy Locals and Tesla in their report. This proved to be a small speed bump for the VPP, though, as the issue was immediately fixed by remotely reconfiguring non-compliant systems in the power plant.

Credit: Twitter/Resilient Energy Collective

“Since this event, Tesla informs AEMO that it has introduced daily checks on all systems to ensure they are responding according to the expected configuration requirements. It is expected that this approach will mitigate the risk of any future under-delivery,” the report read.

Tesla’s South Australia Virtual Power Plant had another chance to prove itself in December 2019, when the National Electricity Market experienced both high and low-frequency events within 45 minutes of each other. The response from the VPP was quick, charging its batteries to lower system frequency, and then discharging the energy storage units to raise system frequency. This event, if any, showed that the community-driven system was very flexible.

Tesla has provided its own insights based on the South Australia Virtual Power Plant’s performance so far. The company noted that the system had several opportunities to demonstrate its capabilities, as well as provide hints at its revenue earning potential. “Specifically, the capability of aggregated assets to rapidly respond to frequency deviations and provide critical system security services. This has also meant VPPs can access revenues from markets that aggregated assets, particularly smaller aggregated assets, have traditionally been excluded from,” Tesla noted.

What is most remarkable is that Tesla’s Virtual Power Plant in South Australia is already addressing the needs of the grid despite being only fractionally complete. The project is reportedly in its second phase, which involves the network growing to about 1,100 homes equipped with residential solar and Powerwall batteries. This is but the tip of the iceberg for Tesla’s actual VPP plans, as the electric car maker aims to build a network of 50,000 homes that are ready to serve as backup to the region’s grid anytime. If ~1,100 homes can already perform this well, then it’s pretty exciting to infer how capable a completed, 50,000-strong Tesla Virtual Power Plant could be.

Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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