Artificial Intelligence and the tech behind the VPP

The meteoric rise of rooftop solar in Australia is fundamentally changing the way our power grid is run. Australia has the world’s highest solar penetration rates with 2.7 million rooftop systems installed over the past decade, and as a result, close to a quarter of total power generation now comes from people’s roofs.

Now with more and more Australians adding battery storage, EVs and other energy assets, we can be smarter and more efficient way in the way we use and store power, by connecting and aggregating them as part of a virtual power plant (VPP).

A virtual what?

Until recently, all the electricity you used in your home or business was generated at a large power station and transported through a network of thousands of kilometres of high voltage transmission lines, and then along the poles and wires on your street and into your home or business.

A virtual power plant (VPP) can connect thousands, and even millions, of energy assets across many separate locations and coordinate or orchestrate them so they’re working together like a traditional power station.

Orchestration is when the platform tells your energy assets such as home batteries or electric vehicles to charge at certain time of day, such as when energy is plentiful and cheaper. It can also coordinate them to join forces to send energy back into the grid when it is needed.

How does it work?

The platform takes millions of data points from the electricity market and other sources such as the weather bureau in near-real time and feeds it into the algorithm, which continuously assesses the system and makes forecasts on energy demand. AI would then optimise solar and storage for each individual customer, for example, directing your devices to charge or discharge at the best time of day for you.

In the back end, the VPP also coordinates with our power stations helping us to optimise operations so we can send the power where it’s needed and when. The more assets we can connect into our VPP, means we may not need to invest in building a new power station or other energy infrastructure like transmission lines and interconnectors – the costs of which ultimately end up being shared across everyone’s energy bills.

What are the benefits?

  • Smarter – A VPP allows us to use all the energy in the system more effectively.
  • Cleaner – A VPP connects rooftop solar, batteries and other energy assets and can shift their usage or charging to times of day when energy is more plentiful – typically during the day when there’s lots of solar generating – and discharge at night, reducing reliance on energy from power stations.
  • More efficient and affordable – Get more value out of your solar and storage when you join forces with others. Or be paid to help out with your excess energy at times of high demand.

On the season finale of our So Watt? podcast, we delve into virtual power plants and the benefits for customers

Demand response

A VPP is not just battery and storage. When we connect different types of assets such as air-conditioning systems or pool filters to our VPP, that’s when we can start to quickly make a real difference. When the platform tells multiple hot water systems connected to the VPP to power down and use less energy at the same time, the collective energy saved can be used elsewhere in the grid. Because we’re spreading the load across many systems, you can still take a hot shower. How clever!

This type of demand response can include devices in the home or large industrial equipment – it doesn’t matter how large or small because the power of the VPP is when all these assets connect to form one big virtual power station.

Origin’s VPP

Origin’s VPP has quietly grown to more than 130MW of assets connected – about the size of a unit at a gas-fired power station.

Rooftop solar installations show no signs of slowing, and battery and EVs are expected to grow rapidly over the coming decade, which means our VPP is only going to get bigger and make more of a difference.

It will be easy for our customers to see what’s happening in their home with our award-winning app, with information about household energy usage, grid independence solar generation, battery charge and discharge, all in one place.

In the future, it may be possible for customers connected to the VPP to be offered cheaper rates to charge their assets like batteries or electric vehicles at certain times of day, be paid to use less energy to help stabilise the grid or be paid for their excess solar if proposals by regulators to constrain export to the grid come into place. In short, there are a wide range of opportunities to share value back to customers through different pricing, products and services.  

How do I join the VPP?

The easiest way to be a part of our VPP today is by joining Spike. Spike allows Origin customers to earn points that can be redeemed for cash or gift vouchers if they reduce their usage during nominated Spike hours.

All you need to do is wait an hour to put the dishwasher or dryer on or turn the air-conditioning up a couple of degrees in summer or even easier, program your smart plugs and connected devices do the hard work for you.

More than 30,000 Origin customers have already signed up for Spike since we launched it late last year and in that time, we’ve given nearly $1 million in rewards to power down during our regular ‘Spike Hour’ events.

With around two-thirds of Spike customers answering the call to participate in each event and reducing their energy use by nearly half, we know customers are increasingly ready to embrace new ways to save energy and earn rewards.

To be part of Spike, you need to have a smart (digital) meter. Don’t have one? If you are in South Australia or Queensland then don’t worry, it is possible to request a free meter upgrade as part of the sign-up process for Spike.

We are also launching more affordable battery and solar offers, with financing plans and rewards. These will initially be available in Victoria, but will be expanded into other states over the coming months.

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