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Slow going for AGL's Adelaide 'virtual power plant'

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Its launch gained national notoriety after then Premier Jay Weatherill confronted Josh Frydenberg on live television, but AGL’s “virtual power plant” has since faded into the background with Adelaide customers facing long delays after paying deposits to be connected to the experimental system.

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The project, which supposedly went “live” in March 2017 with that now infamous press conference, is designed to connect 1000 home solar and battery systems using smart software to create a 5MW “virtual power plant” that could be used to supply energy and services to the grid if needed.

Many South Australians jumped at the subsidised costs of the batteries under the project, expressing interest or paying a deposit, but an unknown number – potentially hundreds – are still waiting to be connected after 18 months of delays.

AGL revealed today that some customers would not be connected until next year – about two years after the project began.

AGL suspended the roll-out last year to reconsider the technology it was using, restarting in March this year and pitching for more people to sign up. From March, customers were offered either an LG Chem Resu battery paired with a SolarEdge inverter for $2990 or a Tesla Powerwall 2 for $5490.

InDaily has spoken to one frustrated customer who paid a deposit soon after the virtual power plant was announced. He has been told he won’t be connected until late this year or even early 2019, after being given an indicative timeline by AGL for his system to up and running in July-August this year. Online forums show many others who are still waiting for word from AGL about when they will be connected.

AGL told InDaily that the project had connected fewer than half of the planned 1000 systems and apologised for the delays.

“The number of batteries installed, operating, and connected to the AGL Virtual Power Plant (VPP) is more than 400 and increasing daily,” the company said in response to our questions.

“As a trial of how residential solar energy systems can support the electricity network, the VPP was paused last year to consider and apply lessons from initial installations.

“Sales and installations resumed earlier this year with the latest technology, and installer capacity and the number of batteries continue to grow.

“We apologise to customers for installation delays and are focussed on completing installations as soon as practical, safely and without compromising quality.”

In response to further questions from InDaily, AGL’s Executive General Manager Wholesale Markets Richard Wrightson said the project would continue as announced and would include 1000 connected batteries when completed.

“The majority of the 1000 batteries will be installed this year, with the balance in the first half of next year,” he said.

The $20 million project is backed by a $5 million contribution from the Federal Government through its Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which is what drew then Energy Minister Frydenberg to Adelaide in March 2017.

That press conference, with then AGL boss Andy Vesey, was infamously gatecrashed by Weatherill, who exchanged insults with Frydenberg live to air.

“I have to say it is a little galling to be standing here next to a man who has been standing up with his prime minister bagging SA at every step of the way over the last six months,” Weatherill said.

“It is a disgrace the way in which your government has treated our state. It’s the most anti-South Australian government we have seen from a Commonwealth Government in living memory.”

Frydenberg at the time praised the AGL project saying that the “cloud-based system” would allow the company to “operate the system virtually, harnessing power from the sun, captured and stored from residential rooftops”.

The Marshall Government is also subsidising battery systems for South Australians, with its $100 million scheme coming into operation next month.

From October, 40,000 South Australian households will have access to $100 million in State Government subsidies to pay for the installation of home battery systems, with individual subsidies capped at $6000.

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