South Australia + Tesla Building a Solar 'Virtual Power Plant'
4000 people have already signed up, but can this effort at renewable energy succeed after previous attempts have led to blackouts?
On Sunday, the premier of South Australia, announced a plan to create the world’s largest virtual power plant, a network of 50,000 home solar systems using Tesla’s Powerwall batteries.
The project will start with a trial run on 1,100 households living in public housing, and will unroll over the course of four and a half years.
Participating households will have the 5kW solar panel system and 13.5kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 batteries installed at no charge. Instead, the system would be funded through both the sale of electricity and by taxpayers through an A$2 million ($1.6-million) government grant and a A$30-million loan from the Renewable Technology Fund, which is funded by the state government.
This is not the first time that South Australia has experimented with renewable energy. Since the early 2000s, it has invested heavily in wind energy, and went from one wind farm in 2001 to thirteen in 2010. As of October 2011, South Australia has seen a total of $2.8 billion invested in wind power investment — though the process of moving to renewable energy has not been without its issues.
In September 2016, the whole electrical system of South Australia suffered blackouts when two tornadoes ripped out three power transmission towers, causing them to trip, leading to power dips in the grid. This triggered the activation of a protection feature on nine farms that led to a decrease in output of 456 megawatts in less than seven seconds.
An interconnector that connected the wind power to the rest of the electrical grid tried to make up for the lost electrical output, but because the change in output was so drastic, the load shedding control failed, and South Australia was plummeted into a statewide blackout. output was so drastic, the load shedding control failed, and South Australia was plummeted into a statewide blackout.
It was due to this incident, as well as the rising costs of electricity of renewables, that the state government invited Elon Musk to help stabilize the electrical grid, which his company, Tesla, did by building the world’s largest battery.
Still, not everyone is impressed. The Australian Prime Minister, Malcoln Turnbull, described Weatherill’s efforts as a “reckless energy experiment” — and some South Australian residents without power just might agree.