Virtual Power Plant project for Alice Springs

The Alice Springs Future Grid is delivering the Northern Territory’s first Virtual Power Plant, writes Greg King-Evans.

The Northern Territory city of Alice Springs has a goal to achieve 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Part of this target has been the formation of the Alice Springs Future Grid, a .5 12.5 million collaborative project that is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency ( ARENA), the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government.

It is focused on removing barriers to renewable energy in the Alice Springs power system.

Now the project has taken a giant leap forward by appointing energy management vendor SwitchDin to deliver the Northern Territory’s first Virtual Power Plant (VPP).

SwitchDin provides a comprehensive distributed energy orchestration technology platform for residential and commercial solar, batteries, electric vehicles and loads. The company will deliver the technology that links solar and battery systems across Alice Springs to create the Solar Connect VPP that will provide an opportunity for the city’s community to be involved in a series of innovative trials.

“Alice Springs has a strong history of renewable energy innovation, including the DKA Solar Center, Bushlight, Alice Solar City and the Intyalheme Center for Future Energy,” says Alice Springs Future Grid project director Lyndon Frearson, from local engineering firm Ekistica.

“Creating the Solar Connect VPP involved engineering and economic challenges, legal and regulatory arrangements, and community engagement, requiring an enormous collaborative effort between project partners.

“The process demanded robust discussion and decision-making, which felt uncomfortable at times, but we recognize friction is a design feature of the Alice Springs Future Grid project and a byproduct of building relationships and overcoming barriers in a changing environment.”

Delivery of the Solar Connect VPP is being coordinated by Intyalheme Center for Future Energy on behalf of Desert Knowledge Australia, with project partners including Jacana Energy, Power and Water Corporation, and Arid Lands Environment Center.

The CSIRO is also involved in distributing project findings throughout Australia’s energy industry.

The Solar Connect VPP will utilize Stormcloud, a smart, digital platform that securely connects distributed energy resources across the grid to make it secure and efficient.

Alice Springs has a proud history of embracing solar energy. Photo: Supplied.

“SwitchDin has worked with major energy retailers across Australia to create VPPs using Stormcloud,” says SwitchDin CEO Dr Andrew Mears.

“What we’re doing with the Solar Connect VPP is an example of how our technology is being used to optimize rooftop solar and home batteries for the benefit of the grid, households and communities.

“The Solar Connect VPP demonstrates how we can work in regional locations such as Alice Springs, which may reduce the need for more investment in transmission and distribution infrastructure to send energy from centralized electricity generators.”

The Solar Connect VPP project continues a long history of Alice Springs embracing solar power.

“The Alice Springs community has always been a leading participant in the transition to renewable energy, especially solar,” says Jacana Energy CEO Louisa Kinnear.

“Its efforts in this innovative trial combined with new technology being used and knowledge sharing between project partners will help all of us move into a clean energy future.”

The Northern Territory Government-owned Power and Water Corporation is proud to be part of the project, helping to reduce households’ reliance on grid electricity and optimizing the return on investment in rooftop solar and home batteries.

“The VPP trial intends to enable our customers to connect larger solar PV systems and export more energy into the grid than ever before, while building on system security and stability,” says Thomas Wearne, sub-project lead, future grid deployments, at Power. and Water Corporation.

“Power and Water Corporation is proud to be partnering in this project and exploring potential solutions to contribute to the Northern Territory Government’s 50 per cent renewable energy target.”

The Alice Springs Future Grid project is due to be completed in mid-2023.

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