Virtual power plant program generates lots of interest
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.
Emma Morgan will harness the energy of the sun in a series of virtual power plants across the South West.