|NSW plans massive solar and battery virtual power plant across 2,200 public schools|
Sophie Vorrath 16 November 2022 3
Plans to establish Australia’s largest school-based solar and battery virtual power plant in New South Wales are underway, with the launch of an expression of interest process by the state government.
The NSW Smart Energy Schools Pilot project, which had its start in May of this year, is seeking to harness the solar generation potential of up to eight million square metres of roof space across 2,200 public schools.
Starting this week, School Infrastructure NSW is inviting specialist companies to register for the pilot program in what is believed to be one of the largest procurement exercises of its kind in Australia.
So far, solar and battery storage systems – capable of storing 950kWh of electricity – have been installed alongside air conditioning systems with smart controls at 24 schools taking part in the first stage of the Smart Energy Schools pilot.
These 24 systems have been switched on and are cutting electricity emissions by an average of 30% and cutting electricity costs by more than $14,000 each month.
Work to install the solar and battery systems at a further 29 schools is now also underway as Stage 2 of the pilot, with those systems expected to be brought online progressively from early 2023.
Another seven schools that had solar and battery systems installed as part of the Smart Batteries for Key Government buildings initiative will also take part in the pilot.
A school-based power plant
“The project is testing solar and battery energy storage systems at 60 schools across the state and the feasibility of operating them as part of a virtual power plant,” says NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell.
“We want to reduce our state’s carbon emissions, cut school electricity costs and help students to learn more about renewable energy, and these programs are an exciting opportunity for schools to benefit from renewable energy technology.
“NSW Public Schools have the roof space and it is a no brainer that we look at how we can start utilising that space to benefit NSW energy market,” Mitchell said.
The EOI process, which forms part of Stage 3 of the pilot, will seek proposals to finance, install and operate solar and battery systems across the state’s remaining public schools, potentially as part of a long-term Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).
School Infrastructure NSW is expecting proponents to focus on models where they lease the roof space, finance, install and maintain the solar and battery systems and sell the energy back to the schools under an off-take agreement.
Proposals could also include management of electric vehicle charging and other behind the meter solutions, as well as the operation of the systems via a Virtual Power Plant.
Image supplied Huge potential
Beyond saving money and cutting electricity emissions, the establishment of a Smart Energy Schools VPP has huge potential, considering NSW public schools consume about 345,000 megawatt-hours of electricity a year.
It is estimated that the roughly 21,700 buildings at 2,200 public schools in the state with around 8 million square metres of roof space could host up to 145MW of solar energy – the equivalent to a large-scale solar farm – all with added battery storage and smart controls.
The smart controls, in particular, will investigate the potential use of demand response controls to reduce the schools’ peak demand and avoid costly upgrades to the electricity network.
“With roof space equivalent to around 500 Sydney Cricket Grounds … this exercise will help us harness the power potential of our schools,” said NSW energy minister Matt Kean.
“We have to be smart about how we finance and operate these resources so we maximise the financial returns for NSW and help make the electricity system more secure.”
Non-binding proposals received during the EOI will be shortlisted in early 2023. The short-listed proposals will be considered as part of a potential future large scale roll out across the NSW public school asset portfolio.
Interested participants should go to www.tenders.nsw.gov.au to register their interest and participate in an online briefing session.