FEB 06, 2018 8:31 AM PST

Tesla Brings Biggest Solar "Virtual" Power Plant to Australia

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is well-known as a clean-energy groundbreaker, along with being the founder of Space-X, OpenAI and numerous other innovative companies. In 2017 and 2018, he has directed some of the Tesla team’s inventive problem-solving powers to Australia and particularly the state of South Australia, which has experienced issues with its consistent power-supply capabilities. In February 2018, South Australia announced plans to team up with Tesla to create the Earth’s largest “virtual” power plant – a plant that pools resources from multiple hubs, rather than a central supply.

image of South Australia, Tesla solar power system, credit: southaustralia.com, Tesla

World’s Biggest Virtual Power Plant Launches in Housing Trust Neighborhoods

“We will use people’s homes as a way to generate energy for the South Australian grid, with participating households benefiting with significant savings in their energy bills,” South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill said. The project will begin with a focus on public housing communities in South Australia, then expand to include any household.

The goal is outfit at least 50,000 homes with Tesla’s solar panels and battery storage units. More than 6,500 households have already expressed interest in the project. The initial trial will include 1,100 homes run by the South Australian Housing Trust (Housing SA), which will receive a 5kW solar energy system and 13.5kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 battery, free of charge. A further 24,000 Housing Trust properties will then receive installments, after which all South Australian households will be invited to join the program.

The energy generated by each home will be connected to the grid, creating the new virtual power plant. The four-year undertaking is financed by government grants and funds totaling approximately $32 million Australian dollars ($25 million USD). The virtual plant will be the world’s largest. Another similar project in Australia’s capital city of Canberra includes 250 homes and companies.

“We know that people in social housing can often struggle meeting their everyday needs and this initiative will take some pressure off their household budget,” said Social Housing Minister Zoe Bettison. Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis added “ … this project will lower power bills by 30 percent for those that need it most, before being made available to a broader network of customers.”

World’s Biggest Ion Battery

The establishment of this virtual power plant follows closely on the heels of Musk and Tesla building the Earth’s largest battery system for South Australia in late 2017. The battery will be a repository for the power generated by a nearby wind farm and will release power as needed. It can provide ample energy for up to 30,000 homes.

Both the virtual power plant and new battery system are intended to address inconsistencies in South Australia’s power grid. In 2016 and 2017, major power outages occurred, resulting from heat waves and storms.

According to the government of South Australia, a recent Australian Energy Market Commission report estimated that energy prices for the average home will fall by an average of $300 during the next two years.

In other Tesla news across the globe, the company announced in early February 2018 that its solar products will now be sold at 800 Home Depot stores in the U.S.

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
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