Tesla’s giant ‘Virtual Power Plant’ made of 50k homes and Powerwalls enters 2nd phase

Tesla’s ambitious plan to establish a 250 MW/650 MWh “Virtual Power Plant” in South Australia is moving to its second phase. In an announcement last week, Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan stated that initiatives are now underway to install Powerwall 2 home battery units and solar panels to another 1,000 Housing SA properties.

The proposed Virtual Power Plant was conceived by Tesla and South Australia’s former Labor government earlier this year. The project is undoubtedly ambitious, involving 50,000 connected homes, each fitted with a 13.5 kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 battery and a 5 kW rooftop solar system. The 50,000 houses are expected to deliver 250 MW of solar energy and 650 MWh of battery storage capacity. Just like Tesla’s Powerpack farm in South Australia, the VPP will be capable of providing additional grid stability by shifting demand away from a stressed grid during peak hours.

The first phase of the project, which involved the installation of batteries and solar panels to the first 100 houses of the VPP, has been successful so far. Households that are part of the existing system have reported a 70% reduction in their grid consumption, leading to lower power bills. With the first trial phase done, Tesla and solar retail partner Energy Locals are now looking to add 1,000 more households to the system.

Tesla’s planned Virtual Power Plant passed through several challenges this year, particularly after the Labor Party was replaced by the Liberal Party after the elections last March. In an announcement after being elected, new South Australian Premier Steven Marshall suggested that his government would not be supporting Tesla’s VPP. Marshall’s government instead proposed an alternative, involving subsidies for 40,000 homes to purchase battery systems.

Unlike Tesla’s proposed Virtual Power Plant, Marshall’s plan would require homeowners to purchase battery packs (albeit at a lower price), making the system out of reach for low-income households. Marshall’s plan is also limited to houses that are already fitted with solar panels. Tesla’s VPP, on the other hand, aims to provide both solar systems and Powerwall 2 batteries to 50,000 low-income households for free. 

Marshall eventually took a more moderate stance on Tesla’s Virtual Power Plant amidst backlash over his lack of support for the project. By the end of May, Energy Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan announced that the South Australian government would be supporting both Tesla’s proposal and Marshall’s alternative battery subsidy plan. In an announcement last week at the SA Department of Energy and Mining’s official website, van Holst Pellekaan expressed his optimism about the growing VPP.

“The VPP will deliver cheaper electricity to some of South Australia’s most disadvantaged households while increasing the reliability of the state’s electricity network. We have made South Australia the world capital of home batteries with our Home Battery Scheme attracting three battery manufacturers to South Australia and by driving forward with the VPP,” he said.

If the second phase of the Virtual Power Plant proves successful, the third, most ambitious phase of the project will commence. Provided that funding for the estimated AU$800 million ($628 million) project is secured, the system would grow to 50,000 homes over the next few years. When complete, the 50,000-strong Virtual Power Plant is expected to deliver 250 MW of solar energy and 650 MWh of battery storage capacity, dwarfing the highly successful Hornsdale Power Reserve near Jamestown, which has a 100MW/129MWh capacity.

Watch Tesla’s teaser for the South Australia Virtual Power Plant in the video below.

Tesla’s giant ‘Virtual Power Plant’ made of 50k homes and Powerwalls enters 2nd phase
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