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Energy Networks Australia has revealed the winner of the 2020 Industry Innovation Award.

SA Power Networks took the win for its Advanced Virtual Power Plant (VPP) Grid Integration Trial.

The award recognises the distribution network’s national leadership in the design and application of ground-breaking technology supporting Australia’s customer-focused energy transition.

When fully deployed to up to 50,000 households, the SA VPP’s power output will be able to be doubled compared with traditional approaches to grid integration, increasing its export capacity to 500MW – the same capacity as the now decommissioned coal-fired Port Augusta (Northern) Power Station – and supporting up to one third of typical state electricity demand.

The project has shown how higher levels of energy exports to the grid from customer systems can be enabled through flexible, rather than fixed, export limits. It tested the value this can create for VPP operators, who also have the opportunity to provide important network support services such as frequency control.

Through application of this technology, the power output of Tesla’s 50,000 battery VPP will be able to be doubled compared with traditional approaches to grid integration, increasing its capacity to 500MW – the same capacity as the now decommissioned coal-fired Port Augusta (Northern) Power Station – and supporting up to one third of typical state electricity demand.

This project is believed to be the first to demonstrate this concept in actual operation with the largest VPP actively participating in the Australian energy market, and to seek to measure the real-world costs and benefits of this approach.

Energy Networks Australia CEO, Andrew Dillon, said the project demonstrated SA Power Networks’ understanding of the immense change the energy sector was undergoing and the economic and social need to create smarter energy grids.

“The VPP Grid Integration Trial is a fine example of energy network innovation facilitating the renewable energy transition while enhancing the safety, reliability and affordability of electricity,” Mr Dillon said.

“This is an important project not just for South Australia but for the nation as we work to integrate increasing amounts of distributed energy into the electricity system.

“The learnings from this ambitious project will contribute to the development of smarter grids and better customer outcomes across the country.”

Accepting the Award on behalf of SA Power Networks, Mark Vincent, GM Strategy & Transformation, said the concept was simple. “Instead of fixed export limits we have created the capacity to provide flexible export limits that maximise the opportunity for everyone to share the energy generated from their rooftops.

“Our next step is developing a flexible exports option for individual customers to maximise their export capacity as well as the groups of customers managed within VPPs.  

“We are aiming to make this wider offering available to all solar customers in South Australia in 2022.

“We are now in a completely different place in terms of integrating renewables with the grid and we anticipate the work we are doing is creating the blueprint for a national approach to integration of DER.

“That approach has the support of the solar industry, equipment manufacturers, networks, system managers and policy makers.”

The Consumer Engagement Award and the Industry Contribution Award will be announced later in October and all awards will be recognised formally at Energy Networks Australia’s Annual Dinner and conference in 2021.

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