The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced $8.6 million in funding to Western Power, to develop a pilot project in Perth focused on developing and operating Distributed Energy Resources (DER) within the South West Interconnected System (SWIS).

The $35.5 million project, known as Project Symphony, is being undertaken over two years in partnership with Western Power, WA energy retailer Synergy and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

ARENA is contributing $8.6 million to the project, the Western Australian Government $19.3 million and AEMO $7.6 million.

Project Symphony is a unique pilot where around 500 customers with over 900 DER assets such as rooftop solar, battery storage and major appliances, will be orchestrated as a Virtual Power Plant (VPP). 

Additional DER assets will be brought online through the involvement of third-party aggregators in a later phase of the project. 

The project will explore and better understand how the innovative use of DER can provide benefits to customer affordability and network security, reduce emissions, and help strengthen the state’s economy and Wholesale Energy Market.

$26.9 million in funding was secured and announced for its development by the Western Australian Government and AEMO in February 2021. 

Funding for Project Symphony will go towards the development, integration and testing of software systems that manage energy distribution, market operation and market aggregation. Together, these will underpin the effective monitoring and coordination of a high volume of mostly customer DER assets.

If Project Symphony is successful it will help to identify the investment required to further expand the role of DER, with the project a major component of the Western Australian Government’s DER Roadmap.

ARENA: adapting the grid to support renewable uptake 

ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said Project Symphony aims to adapt grid management to support greater uptake of rooftop solar, home batteries and other DER assets.

“DER presents an opportunity to increase consumer value and reduce costs for all consumers. The rapid growth in DER uptake reflects households taking advantage of the rapid development of new technology to store and manage energy, bolstered by recent state government incentive packages,” Mr Miller said. 

“However, without appropriate coordination of DER, network operators may be required to curtail DER output to manage constraints. 

“Project Symphony aims to address these issues and highlight the benefits that orchestration can provide to consumers and the energy system.”

Discovering how PV can lower electricity prices 

Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said the project was important to help understand how rooftop solar and batteries could be centrally orchestrated to balance broad-scale electricity supply. 

“Australians are embracing rooftop solar at a record rate. The uptake of solar energy is particularly strong in Western Australia, where more than 1.8 gigawatts of small-scale solar have been installed by households and businesses, and where around one in three homes now have rooftop solar,” Mr Taylor said. 

“As this continues to grow, it is crucial to understand how solar and batteries can work to lower costs for all electricity customers and strengthen electricity networks, rather than detract from reliability.” 

Senator for WA, Matt O’Sullivan, said this is an exciting project for the state.

“This funding will help us secure and strengthen our power networks as locals continue to embrace new sources of electricity,” Mr O’Sullivan said. 

“It also ensures Western Australia is leading the way, future proofing our power network as we continue to embrace non-traditional electricity and distributed energy resources.” 

Western Australian Energy Minister, Bill Johnston, said Project Symphony will pave the way for the future of Western Australia’s sustainable electricity sector. 

“Virtual Power Plants could be the future for electricity in WA,” Mr Johnston said. 

“We currently have power stations, at the edge of our networks, with lots of wires carrying high voltages hundreds of kilometres. 

“But in the future, houses will become the power station through their rooftop solar. 

“Project Symphony will test how increased access to renewables can benefit communities and is a major deliverable of the DER Roadmap.”

Southern River area invited to participate 

Member for Jandakot, Yaz Mubarakai, said it was an exciting announcement for the Southern River area. 

“Around 500 homes and businesses will be invited to participate in Piara Waters and Harrisdale, where 50 per cent of households have embraced rooftop solar. 

“Project Symphony will demonstrate how increased access to renewables can benefit communities throughout Western Australia.”

AEMO Executive General Manager in WA, Cameron Parrotte, said that the pilot, “will facilitate the industry collaboration and consumer input we need to ensure the Western Australian community are the beneficiaries of secure, reliable, affordable and sustainable energy.”

The amount of rooftop solar installed in Western Australia is projected to continue accelerating towards one in two households by 2030. 

AEMO’s Manager, Distributed Markets WA, Tom Butler, said, “Project Symphony will test not if, but how, we best implement the transition to a high DER future where DER orchestration is also being used in a commercial environment, where consumers can benefit from being active market participants.”

Synergy has begun recruiting eligible customers for the trial, which is expected to run until June 2023.

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