South Australia promises world's largest virtual power plant

SYDNEY (Reuters) - South Australia’s state premier Jay Weatherill announced a plan on Sunday to create a network of 50,000 home solar systems backed by Tesla Powerwall batteries, ahead of a state election in March.

FILE PHOTO: South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill walks around the compound housing the Hornsdale Power Reserve, featuring the world's largest lithium ion battery made by Tesla, during the official launch near the South Australian town of Jamestown, in Australia, December 1, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray

“We lead the world in renewable energy with the world’s largest battery, the world’s largest solar thermal plant and now the world’s largest virtual power plant,” he said in a televised interview from the state capital of Adelaide.

“The size of it is the reason why it’s going to be a success.”

The project would begin with a trial on 1,100 public housing homes, the government said on its website.

The 5kW solar panel system and 13.5kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 batteries would be installed at no charge to participating households, but would be funded through the sale of electricity and by taxpayers through a A$2 million ($1.6-million) government grant and a A$30-million loan from the state-government-funded Renewable Technology Fund.

The South Australian Labor party which has governed the state since 2002 previously engaged entrepreneur Elon Musk to build the world’s biggest lithium ion battery which went into operation on December 1, in time to feed the state’s shaky power grid for the first day of summer.

Supporters say the battery will help stabilise the grid after the state, which gets more than 40 percent of its electricity from wind energy, suffered a string of blackouts and soaring energy prices.

The solar announcement was made on the same day that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched the election campaign of state opposition leader Steven Marshall from the conservative Liberal Party.

Marshall will try to oust the more left-wing state Labor government in the March 17 election.

At the televised campaign launch, Turnbull took a crack at South Australia’s energy policy, calling it a “reckless energy experiment” that had created the highest electricity prices in the developed world.

“They overlooked the minor detail, minor to them, that the wind doesn’t blow every day,” he said.

Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Clarence Fernandez