Contact aims to create virtual power plant

By SkySolar

Contact Energy’s solar and battery trial aims to create a “virtual power plant” which could help support Wellington in the event of a natural disaster.

The firm has partnered with Wellington Electricity Lines, Wellington City Council and Sky Solar to install solar and battery units at about 25 homes in the capital.

Chief customer officer Vena Crawley says using battery technology to improve resilience is a big part of the trial. “For Contact, it’s about using innovative and highly flexible energy technology solutions to enhance the resilience of our communities in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake.”

Participants also receive an LPG bottle as an additional source of fuel for cooking, lighting and hot water heating in a power outage. They will also receive a 200-litre water tank and will will also be offered home energy audits to identify how they can reduce their energy bills.

Wellington Mayor, Justin Lester, says the project allows the council to test what would work for the city following a big event, such as an earthquake. “Energy independent homes can become community assets, helping ensure our city continues to function.” Participants will also agree to allow neighbours to charge mobile devices off their stored supply in the event of a disaster – enabling people to keep in touch with friends and family, he says.

Lester expects the trial will be a catalyst for building neighbourhood connections. “It’s so important to get to know your community before disaster strikes,” he says.

“The fact that these innovative technologies also draw on renewable energy resources just adds to the benefits of the project.” Rewarding peak support Contact is also leading the battery trial to identify potential new retail products and services. It wants to see how a network of customer-located batteries can “maximise the benefits this technology can deliver for customers”, Crawley says.

The trial will incorporate 25 residential consumers in a selected area between Oriental Bay and Berhampore. It is an expansion of an initial project to install solar and batteries at five homes on a single feeder in the suburb of Wadestown. Contact and WCC will pay for a PylonTech low-voltage energy storage system, valued at about $6,000, if households install a Sky Solar array on their roof. The battery will be owned by the participant, but will be used by Contact and Wellington Electricity to manage peak demands on the network for two years.

Having a battery alongside their solar panels allows participants to be rewarded for the energy they produce when the electricity grid is under pressure at peak times, Crawley says. “This technology trial is being built and tested using the credentials of three partners coming together to provide a collaborative solution.”

The two-year trial will allow Contact to control the batteries to discharge either to the households or into the grid at peak periods. Wellington Electricity is also working with the retailer to develop capability to use the stored energy to offset loads during times of high network demand. Crawley says the participants are able to view and manage their energy use in real-time via a mobile phone app. He expects that in the future the technology could be used to give customers the choice of sharing stored energy between homes. “Contact is evolving fast, and thinking beyond energy to deliver on customers’ expectations now and in the future. This trial reflects our commitment to testing new smart and real-time energy solutions, enabled by technology, to help our customers and build resilient communities.”

Sky Solar

Sky Solar installed the systems in Wadestown earlier this year and expects to begin the second round of installations this month. The trial is expected to start in September. Participants need to pay Sky Solar to install the battery system as well as purchasing at least 3 kW of Trina Solar panels and a 4.6 kW Redback Smart Hybrid inverter from the firm.

Managing director Nick Freeman says the trial demonstrates how larger electricity firms, city councils and lines companies are “embracing the solar technology”. Freeman says Contact researched and chose the technology for the trial.

A key consideration was its suitability for demand response management. He believes one of the reasons Contact selected the firm is that it has a focus on delivering high ­quality installations and tries not to sub-contract work out. “It’s about getting a really quality job done for our customers.”

Freeman noted the involvement of several other energy firms – such as Genesis Energy, Mercury NZ and Vector – in the solar industry. “They all understand that it needs to go ahead.”

Sky Solar is keen to partner with Contact and other parts of the industry on projects “going forward”. Almost 53 MW of solar has been installed nationally at the end of April, up from 48 MW at the start of the year, according to Electricity Authority data. Sky Solar was established about three years ago and has since installed more than 1,000 solar systems around the country. Freeman says the firm, which is based in Auckland, now employs installers from “Christchurch to Northland”. It has been focused on the residential market, but Freeman says the firm has broadened its skill sets and is expanding into other areas. “There’s more commercial opportunities available and there’s more interest from the commercial market.” “We would quite happily do 1 DO-kilowatt jobs.”

This article was sourced and published with permission from Energynews.co.nz

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