Australia's AGL launches virtual solar plant

The utility believes the $15m distributed solar project could help ensure grid stability by providing an alternative way to manage demand peaks.

Sydney-listed energy group AGL has launched a 'virtual' solar power plant, a facility involving a cloud-connected system controlling rooftop panels that can supply power to the grid when necessary.

The initiative is jointly backed by AGL, the government-run Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and Sunverge, a US-based energy storage and management company. 

The power plant, comprising 1,000 connected batteries, will be capable of storing 7MWh of energy, with an output equivalent to a 5MW solar peaking plant. The project will cost about A$20 million ($15 million; €13.8 million), of which ARENA is due to provide A$5 million. The plant will be rolled out in three phases over about 18 months.

The plant is “the world’s largest, the first of its kind and an innovative solution to both help customers manage their energy bills and at the same time contribute to grid stability,” AGL said in a statement. The project is billed as an alternative way to manage peaks in energy demand, supporting the higher penetration of intermittent renewables generation on the grid. 

“The project is core to AGL’s strategy of being a manager of distributed energy resources. It also leverages our investment in Sunverge and helps us to continue to improve the digital customer experience,” said Andy Vesey, managing director and chief executive of AGL. 

The government of South Australia is also pushing for other private firms to consider how dispatchable renewable energy technology can be used to deliver electricity around-the-clock, said State Treasurer and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis. 

“It could act as a catalyst and provide evidence for regulatory change to enable more Australian virtual power plants. ARENA funding support depends on the negotiation of a funding agreement, which will include comprehensive knowledge sharing outcomes,” said Ivor Frischknecht, chief executive of ARENA.

AGL has been working to develop more than 1GW of renewable generation through setting up a renewables fund since early this year. The vehicle, dubbed the Powering Australian Renewables Fund, recently secured an A$800 million funding from QIC, with AGL contributing A$200 million.