Our technology intelligently links dispersed renewable energy generators – such as household solar panels – load control, and energy storage systems to create a single ‘virtual’ power station that can feed into the electricity grid.

The challenge

Household solar on the rise

The amount of electricity being generated using solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is increasing, and this has the potential to affect the stability of a community's energy supply. A high density of solar panels can result in unacceptably high and fluctuating voltages, an unstable power supply, and an inability to export electricity to the grid. This could result in restrictions being placed on the amount of PV-based electricity connected to the grid.

As the power generated from solar panels is dependent on light conditions, a quick change in these conditions (like a cloud drifting in front of the sun) can result in a dramatic change in the power generated. This can cause the voltage to fluctuate, not only for the PV owner, but for other users on the electricity network. Other renewable energy sources, such as wind power, have similar issues with voltages fluctuating with the weather conditions.

Our response

Networking renewables for smoother energy

We have developed technology that can help overcome some of the reliability challenges with renewable energy supply.

The Virtual Power Station (VPS) links dispersed renewable energy generators – like rooftop solar PV panels – with energy storage and load control systems in a web-based network, to create a single reliable energy supply, much like a power station.

The Virtual Power Station links energy sources like rooftop solar panels with energy storage devices and load control systems in a web-based network, to create a single reliable energy supply.

By intelligently coordinating loads (such as air conditioning units) and energy storage, the intermittency of renewable generation can be compensated for, mitigating the impact of this type of generation on the electricity grid.

A central control point intelligently monitors the power output of each energy generator in the network – which varies with weather – so that the VPS can combine them into a single electricity supply and provide it to the electricity grid.

Essentially, the VPS is turning a collection of separate, fluctuating power sources into one smooth, reliable energy source – what's known as a dispatchable supply.

The project will consist of four work streams:

  1. Modelling and simulation: we'll develop suitable network simulation models to assess the performance of different control strategies, meaning we can assess Australia-wide impacts and benefits of proposed solar management solutions.
  2. Control system design: we'll also develop a coordinated control system for managing loads, energy storage and reactive power at individual sites. Managing power quality and avoiding energy wastage will provide an immediate financial benefit to consumers in constrained network areas.
  3. Aggregator system design (multi-site): we'll also work on interface and coordination algorithms, suitable for use by energy service providers, allowing aggregation of multiple individual sites to provide reliable and location specific network services. This gives distributors a viable alternative to PV restrictions or distribution network upgrades.
  4. Pilot deployment: following initial testing at our Renewable Energy Integration Facility, the VPS will be deployed at a pilot scale (50-100 individual sites) in a new Lend Lease residential development. The pilot will be maintained for at least a year, with high-resolution data on the network power quality and solar PV hosting capacity made publicly available and promoted in a series of technical and academic publications, plus industry forums.

The results

More renewable energy in the electricity mix

Information learned during the project will be made available to Australian distribution network operators to help in the development of prototype distribution feeder models that will allow assessment of how VPS and other control schemes can increase the amount of PV-based electricity within the grid.

The results of this testing will help to address the challenges that arise from increasing levels of PV-based electricity in distribution networks while improving power quality.

This trial has been provided with funding support from ARENA.

ARENA was established by the Australian Government as an independent agency on 1 July 2012 to make renewable energy technologies more affordable and increase the amount of renewable energy used in Australia. ARENA invests in renewable energy projects, supports research and development activities, boosts job creation and industry development, and increases knowledge about renewable energy.

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