Project Symphony: Western Australia’s biggest virtual power plant goes online

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A virtual power plant (VPP) has gone live in Western Australia, aimed at showing how hundreds of distributed energy resources can help stabilise the electricity grid.

Called Project Symphony, the two-year pilot project is being conducted by state-owned electricity network provider Western Power, utility company Synergy and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

AEMO announced last week that more than 300 customers and more than 650 customer-owned distributed energy resources (DERs) have been recruited to take part, and technology platforms have been built for their DERs to be integrated into.

The project will now begin a period of scenario testing. AEMO will serve as market and system operator, Synergy as aggregator and Western Power as distribution network service operator.

The target is to enroll up to 900 DERs at around 500 homes and businesses.

Essentially, as reported by Energy-Storage.news last December as details of the pilot were revealed, Project Symphony is in an area of particularly high rooftop solar adoption, in a country of high rooftop solar adoption.

The Western Australia power grid was not designed for the two-way flow of electricity that comes with the shift to distributed and renewable energy. A third of WA homes have solar PV, and in the areas of Harrisdale and Piara Waters where the project is taking place, it’s more than 50%.

By “orchestrating” assets like solar, home battery energy storage systems and some household appliances like smart thermostats, the VPP coordinates the generation and storage of electricity at a local level.

“This is the first time ever in the Perth metropolitan area, that customer-owned energy resources including rooftop solar and batteries have been ‘orchestrated’ to test their ability in addressing system stability challenges, as we transition to a lower cost renewable energy future,” AEMO executive general manager for WA and strategy Kate Ryan said.

In other words, the VPP responds to grid conditions in real-time, managing the flow of electricity around peak and off-peak periods. Enabling DERs to be integrated more efficiently into the grid, the project should lower system costs for consumers and free up more capacity for renewable energy to be carried on the network.

Project Symphony will test out four different scenarios in the scenario testing phase. These include a simulated local wholesale electricity market in which more than 200 DER assets will act as one resource, meaning the virtual power plant can bid and dispatch into the market while also providing voltage services to the network.

The project is costing around AU$35.5 million (US$23.6 million), with testing scenarios to continue to April 2023 and key outcomes to be published before the end of 2023.

Funding has come from the Western Australian government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and AEMO. The project is a key part of the state government’s Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap strategy for energy transition.

Virtual power plants are springing up around the world in different configurations. Australia’s largest to date is in South Australia, which completed its first trial phase in 2019, equipping 1,100 social housing properties with solar and battery storage. The South Australia VPP is now in its third phase with more than 3,000 participating properties, with aims to eventually reach 50,000 connected homes.

“It’s great to see hundreds of customers embracing Project Symphony. Their participation will provide valuable insights into how Western Australia’s electricity system can be strengthened to continue to provide reliable, secure, and affordable power,” Western Australia’s energy minister Bill Johnston said.

“In the face of a rapidly changing energy industry, customers’ rooftop solar systems, batteries, and air conditioning orchestrated together can play a meaningful role in providing services and stability to the network.”

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