Wellington in New Zealand is undertaking a pilot of a virtual power plant (VPP) designed to keep the lights on in the event of a natural disaster or grid overload.

Contact Energy, one of the nation’s largest energy generators and retailers, has teamed up with Australian firm Redback Technologies to install networked solar PV panels and batteries on 25 homes in the Wellington area.

The plan is for people in the city to be able to access energy from the solar and batteries in the event of a natural disaster, power outage or during times of peak demand.

It is the first venture into the NZ market for Redback.

The project will use the company’s Smart Hybrid system, which captures, stores and manages solar power and uses machine learning to gather intelligence overtime to ensure energy usage is optimised. The technology also provides external cloud-based control of the solar and storage.

James Kilty, Contact Energy’s chief generation and development officer, said the smart network would enhance the community’s resilience.

So far customer feedback had been positive, he said, and there is a willingness to support the wider community through a neighbourhood charging hub if the need arises.

Tim Latimer, director of Oceania sales at Redback, said the project represented a huge opportunity to trial the company’s technology in a VPP use case.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with one of New Zealand’s leading energy retailers to trial Redback’s system in a VPP setting,” Mr Latimer said.

“This will bring us one step closer to establishing a grid predominantly powered by renewable energy.”

VPPs being used for resilience across the world

Australian energy networks are also looking to renewables and solutions such as microgrids and virtual power plants for areas at risk from natural disaster or operating at the fringe of the grid, where infrastructure costs for more poles and wires are prohibitive.

In March 2017, Ergon and Energex used portable microgrid installations to speed up the restoration of energy for essential services in North Queensland following Cyclone Debbie.

The towns of Bellingen and Collombatti in NSW are both part of a project by Essential Energy in partnership with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, University of Technology Sydney, Reposit Power and SMA Australia, to test battery storage systems and advanced solar inverters as part of a two-year trial to establish the potential of the technology to better manage network constraints.

Further afield, New York City has looked to microgrids powered by renewable energy as part of its post-Sandy resilience strategy to ensure electricity supplies.

Japan is also investing in the VPP approach, with Toshiba last year entering into an agreement with the Tokyo Electric Power Company Energy Partner and the city of Yokohama to promote a demonstration trial of the control of multiple, grouped storage batteries.

In the trial, storage battery equipment will be installed in elementary and junior high schools designated as regional disaster centres in Yokohama.

TEPCO EP will use Toshiba’s storage battery group control systems to adjust power supply through demand response during normal hours, while the City of Yokohama will use them to provide electric power in the event of a disaster or other emergency.

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