Uterne solar farm in Alice Springs, with a town camp in the background. Image courtesy of Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy.

Alice Springs Future Grid is set to develop the Solar Connect Virtual Power Plant (VPP) that will link solar and battery systems across Alice Springs.

SwitchDin, a Newcastle company, which provides a comprehensive distributed energy orchestration technology platform for residential and commercial solar, batteries, electric vehicles and loads, has been appointed to deliver the technology behind the VPP.

The Solar Connect VPP provides an opportunity for the community to be involved in one of Future grid’s innovative trials. 

Future Grid is a whole-of-system project considering how Alice Springs can achieve 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, through a series of trials, models and investigations.

Future Grid Project Director, Lyndon Frearson, said it was a significant moment for the town. 

“Alice Springs has a strong history of renewable energy innovation, including the DKA Solar Centre, Bushlight, Alice Solar City, and the Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy which designed and is leading delivery of the Future Grid project,” Mr Frearson said.

“Creating the Solar Connect VPP involved engineering and economic challenges, legal and regulatory arrangements and community engagement, requiring an enormous collaborative effort between Project Partners.

“The process demanded robust discussion and decision-making which felt uncomfortable at times, but we recognise friction is a design feature of the Future Grid project and a by-product of building relationships and overcoming barriers in a changing environment.”

Project delivery for the VPP

Project delivery is coordinated by the Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy, on behalf of Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA). 

The Project Partners primarily involved in delivery of the VPP include Jacana Energy, Power and Water Corporation and the Arid Lands Environment Centre. Knowledge Sharing partner CSIRO is helping to disseminate lessons learnt across industry.

Power and Water Corporation Sub-project Lead – Future Grid Deployments, Thomas Wearne, said this is a significant milestone for the project. 

“The VPP trial intends to enable our customers to connect larger solar PV systems and export more energy into the grid than ever before, while building on system security and stability,” Mr Wearne said.

“Power and Water is proud to be partnering in this project and exploring potential solutions to contribute to the Northern Territory Government’s 50 per cent renewable energy target.”

Jacana Energy CEO, Louisa Kinnear, said the Alice Springs community have always been leading participants in the transition to renewable energy, especially solar. 

“Their efforts in this innovative trial, combined with the new technology being used and knowledge sharing between project partners, will really help all of us move into a clean energy future,” Ms Kinnear said.

Arid Lands Environment Centre Sub-project Lead – Community Solutions, Hayley Michener, said it’s exciting to see so many local homes, businesses and installers getting involved in the Solar Connect VPP. 

“We’re looking forward to the results of the trial and seeing how it can assist our town to reach 50 per cent renewable energy and beyond,” Ms Michener said.

The Solar Connect VPP will utilise Stormcloud: a smart, digital platform that securely connects distributed energy resources all over the grid to make the grid more secure and efficient.

SwitchDin CEO, Dr Andrew Mears, said VPPs were critical for ensuring the stability of the grid, to reduce households’ reliance on grid electricity and to optimise the return on investment in rooftop solar and home batteries.

“SwitchDin has worked with major energy retailers across Australia to create VPPs using Stormcloud,” Dr Mears said.

What we’re doing with the Solar Connect VPP is another example of how our technology is being used to optimise the rooftop solar and home batteries for the benefit of the grid, households and communities that are connected to the grid.

“The Solar Connect VPP once again demonstrates how we can work in regional locations such as Alice Springs, and this may reduce the need for more investment in transmission and distribution infrastructure to send energy from centralised electricity generators.”

Alice Springs Future Grid is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the Australian Government and the Northern Territory Government. 

It is due to conclude in mid 2023 with findings due to be included in various reports, including a Roadmap to 2030. 

Image: Uterne solar farm in Alice Springs, with a town camp in the background. Image courtesy of Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy.

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