Vir­tual power plant pro­gram gen­er­ates lots of in­ter­est

Augusta Margaret River Times - - News - Taelor Pelusey

Mar­garet River is po­si­tion­ing it­self to house WA’s sec­ond vir­tual power plant, with a Swiss in­vest­ment firm pledg­ing un­capped fund­ing and a num­ber of house­holds al­ready on­board.

Fi­nan­cial backer SUSI Part­ners AG has been closely eye­ing sus­tain­able in­vest­ment in­fra­struc­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties in Aus­tralia and re­cently com­mit­ted $12.5 mil­lion to WA’s first vir­tual power plant, rolling out at Duns­bor­ough next year.

With the Duns­bor­ough Com­mu­nity En­ergy Project trig­ger­ing in­ter­est in res­i­dents from Bun­bury to Au­gusta, the in­vest­ment firm has now agreed to bankroll repli­cat­ing the model to in­ter­ested South West cities and towns.

This might in­clude any­where from Bun­bury to Au­gusta but DCEP lead ac­ti­va­tor Emma Mor­gan said sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est was al­ready be­ing gen­er­ated from Mar­garet River.

Po­ten­tially thou­sands of so­lar PV and bat­tery sys­tems would be in­stalled in house­holds, con­nected and re­motely con­trolled through soft­ware, form­ing a vir­tual power plant.

A not-for-profit as­so­ci­a­tion would be formed around each plant to col­lect weekly lease fees from house­holds that would pay SUSI back over a 10-year pe­riod.

Af­ter SUSI re­coups its in­vest­ment, prof­its would then be pumped into a com­mu­nity fund — fur­ther bol­stered by Red­back’s $250 do­na­tion for ev­ery in­stal­la­tion — and the plant would be­come a com­mu­nity-owned as­set.

With no fi­nan­cial cap on the in­vest­ment, projects in any South West town would start as soon as they reached 300 sign-ups.

It coin­cides with a sep­a­rate push from the Au­gusta-Mar­garet River Clean En­ergy group seek­ing to build a hy­brid plant within the shire. Last week, SUSI closed its first in­vest­ment in Aus­tralia — a 34MW so­lar PV plant in Mid­dle­mount, Queens­land.

“We have just ac­quired our first project in Aus­tralia and we are look­ing to ex­pand our lo­cal pres­ence with fur­ther in­vest­ments in the re­gion,” SUSI Part­ners AG vice-pres­i­dent Mat­teo Zanni said.

“We are thrilled to have the op­por­tu­nity to struc­ture this project, en­abling a scal­able model in which com­mu­ni­ties take an ac­tive role in re­duc­ing their car­bon foot­prints and ob­tain eco­nomic ben­e­fits in do­ing so.”

A 1000-ca­pac­ity sys­tem is ex­pected to pump out 6.5MW at peak times, equat­ing to about 7.6 gi­gawatt hours a year, and is pro­jected to dis­place about 7kt of car­bon emis­sions a year and ease pres­sure on the strained grid.

Sim­i­lar plants on the east coast also op­er­ate as re­tail­ers, push­ing and pulling en­ergy from bat­ter­ies to the grid, but WA leg­is­la­tion does not yet al­low this.

De­spite this, Red­back is con­fi­dent the plants would still pro­vide a ser­vice to the grid by eas­ing de­mand at peak times and would seek to strike a deal with en­ergy providers.

Red­back man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Brian Innes said he was en­cour­aged by the level of sup­port so far.

“We hope that this is just the be­gin­ning of a move­ment that will rapidly bring us all cleaner, cheaper and more re­li­able en­ergy,” he said.

The busi­ness model is be­ing touted as a way to make sus­tain­able en­ergy con­sump­tion more ac­ces­si­ble by re­mov­ing the need to pur­chase or re­pair equip­ment.

An in­for­ma­tion night will soon be held in Mar­garet River.

Search Duns­bor­ough Com­mu­nity En­ergy Project on Face­book for more in­for­ma­tion.

Pic­ture: Taelor Pelusey

Emma Mor­gan will har­ness the en­ergy of the sun in a se­ries of vir­tual power plants across the South West.

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