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The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced $8.6 million in funding for the development of Western Australia’s Distributed Energy Resources (DER) pilot.

The pre-commercial pilot, known as Project Symphony, is focused on developing and operating DER within the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) in Perth.

The $35.5 million project is being undertaken over two years in partnership with Western Power, Synergy and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

What is Project Symphony?

Project Symphony is a unique pilot where around 500 customers with over 900 DER assets such as rooftop solar, battery storage and major appliances, will be orchestrated as a Virtual Power Plant (VPP). 

Additional DER assets will be brought online through the involvement of third-party aggregators in a later phase of the project. 

Project Symphony will explore and better understand how the innovative use of DER can provide benefits to customer affordability and network security, reduce emissions, and help strengthen the Western Australian economy and the wholesale energy market.

In recognition of the value Project Symphony can help deliver to the future operation of Western Australia’s electricity network, $26.9 million in funding was secured and announced for its development by the Western Australian Government and AEMO in February 2021.

Funding for Project Symphony will go towards the development, integration and testing of software systems that manage energy distribution, market operation and market aggregation. 

Together, these will underpin the effective monitoring and coordination of a high volume of mostly customer DER assets.

If Project Symphony is successful, it will help to identify the investment required to further expand the role of DER, while supporting the ongoing reliability and security of the SWIS within current market structures. This trial is a critical component to the Western Australian Government’s DER Roadmap.

Planning the DER future

Australia has the highest rate of rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV) uptake in the world. Around 3GW of small-scale solar PV systems were installed in 2020, for a cumulative total of 13GW of installed capacity across 2.61 million installations since 2010. 

This trend is pronounced in Western Australia, where currently 1.7GW of rooftop solar PV serves over one out of every three households and almost 25 per cent of the SWIS capacity mix.

ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said Project Symphony aims to adapt grid management to support greater uptake of rooftop solar, home batteries and other DER assets.

“DER presents an opportunity to increase consumer value and reduce costs for all consumers,” Mr Miller said.

“The rapid growth in DER uptake reflects households taking advantage of the rapid development of new technology to store and manage energy, bolstered by recent state government incentive packages.

“However, without appropriate coordination of DER, network operators may be required to curtail DER output to manage constraints. 

“Project Symphony aims to address these issues and highlight the benefits that orchestration can provide to consumers and the energy system.”

WA Energy Minister, Bill Johnston, said Project Symphony will pave the way for the future of Western Australia’s sustainable electricity sector.

“Virtual Power Plants could be the future for electricity in Western Australia,” Mr Johnston said.

“We currently have power stations, at the edge of our networks, with lots of wires carrying high voltages hundreds of kilometres. 

“But in the future, houses will become the power station through their rooftop solar.

“Project Symphony will test how increased access to renewables can benefit communities and is a major deliverable of the Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap.”

AEMO’s Manager, Distributed Markets WA, Tom Butler, said that Project Symphony will provide valuable insights into the role that aggregated and orchestrated DER can play in addressing challenges to the power system, market and network as the system becomes more decentralized and decarbonised, such as low daytime demand and variable generation.

“Project Symphony will test not if, but how, we best implement the transition to a high DER future where DER orchestration is also being used in a commercial environment, where consumers can benefit from being active market participants” Mr Butler said.

Previous DER projects

ARENA has previously partnered with AEMO to fund the Victorian DER Marketplace trial, Project Edge. 

Based in the Hume region of north east Victoria, the initiative aims to coordinate the development of a replicable model for trading of electricity and grid services from DER that can be expanded across the National Electricity Network.

ARENA has also supported over $120 million of DER projects, and established the Distributed Energy Integration Program (DEIP) a collaboration of government agencies, market authorities, industry and consumer associations aimed at maximising the value of customers’ DER for all energy users.

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