solar panels
ReachTel polling commissioned by the Climate Council last week found that most South Australians were proud of the leadership the government was showing on energy.

Several states have energy efficiency and renewables programs, each with varying levels of ambition, generally modest. Now South Australia has once again jumped to the fore in sustainability with a bold program to create the world’s biggest virtual grid.

The South Australian government has revealed plans to create the world’s largest virtual power plant – a 250-megawatt plant that will eventually comprise 50,000 residential solar and battery systems provided to households free of charge.

The $800 million project will start with a trial of the packages – five-kilowatt solar PV systems with a 13.5kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 – at 1100 social housing properties. Following the trial, which is already underway, an additional 24,000 Housing Trust properties will receive the systems, followed by the general public. The 250MW/650MWh project is expected to take 4.5 years to rollout, and is estimated to meet 20 per cent of the state’s daily energy needs.

The project will be financed through the sale of electricity generated by the systems into the grid. Though the power generated will not be owned by the participating households, energy savings of about 30 per cent are expected, compared with current bills, according to analysis by Frontier Economics.

The government is putting in $2 million to start the rollout and there is also a $30 million loan from the Renewable Technology Fund. Expressions of interest are open for participating households and the government is soon to begin the process of finding a suitable retailer, with a preference for a new market entrant. The system will be privately owned and operated, and Tesla will be responsible for system installation.

Announcing the project, premier Jay Weatherill said the battery project would lead to reduced bills for everyone, as it would increase renewable energy into the grid and improve stability.

“More renewable energy means cheaper power for all South Australians,” he said.

“Our energy plan means that we are leading the world in renewable energy and now we are making it easier for more homes to become self-sufficient.”

The government pointed to an Australian Energy Market Commission report that found energy prices in the state are expected to fall by about $300 over the next two years for an average household.

Energy minister Tom Koutsantonis said the project would create the world’s largest virtual power plant by coordinating the 50,000 solar and battery systems.

Social housing minister Zoe Bettison said starting with vulnerable households would help improve their standard of living.

“We know that people in social housing can often struggle meeting their everyday needs and this initiative will take some pressure off their household budget,” she said.

“I am very pleased that this government is able to back South Australia’s housing trust tenants through providing cheaper power through this exciting program.”

“Game changer” welcomed

The announcement has been welcomed by climate and sustainability advocates.

Climate Council acting chief executive Dr Martin Rice said the project was a game-changer for the National Electricity Market, and would put downwards pressure on energy bills.

“This announcement shows that the transition to a 21st century grid, made up of clean, affordable and reliable renewable energy and battery storage is inevitable and it’s happening now,” he said.

ReachTel polling commissioned by the Climate Council last week found that most South Australians were proud of the leadership the government was showing on energy.

“The results show that no matter what the age, around 60 per cent of people polled are proud of the state’s clean energy leadership,” Dr Rice said.

“Almost 60 per cent of people polled (33.5 per cent Liberal, 83.3 per cent Labor, 54.3 per cent SA Best) said the rest of Australia should follow SA’s lead on renewable energy and storage within the next five to 10 years.”

Other governments need to step up

Dr Rice said South Australia was doing its part in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and called for a similar commitment from the federal government.

At the state level there are a few programs designed to cut energy use in social housing, though none as ambitious as South Australia’s plan.

In Victoria, the EnergySmart Public Housing Project is providing energy efficiency upgrades to social housing properties, while the Latrobe Valley Home Energy Upgrade Program is also providing solar and efficiency upgrades of $4500 per household.

NSW last year announced a rollout of solar PV and airconditioning on 970 Aboriginal Housing Office properties. It has also just put out an expression of interest for provision of technical services for its Home Energy Action program, which provides financial support to upgrade social housing stock with energy efficiency measures/products.

In Queensland a trial is underway to deliver 3-6MW of solar on up to 4000 government-owned, detached houses.

Tasmania’s Labor Party has pledged support for a solar and battery rollout for 100 low-income households if it forms government in the March state election.

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