Australian Couple’s Uplifting Story With Tesla Virtual Power Plant

I saw an interesting post by Tesla on its LinkedIn page about the story of Neville and Linda Hicks, who are part of South Australia’s Virtual Power Plant. Tesla shared a snippet of their story and a news article by ABC 7.30 on how rewiring Australian households could save them up to $6,000 per year. This is great news for those wanting to switch to renewables and save money.

The article led with the federal government’s climate change goals along with new research that could help people and the country as a whole to reduce emissions — and save a household $6,000 per year. Dr. Saul Griffith, an American-Australian engineer, mapped out the American energy system for the U.S. Department of Energy and is now focused on “Rewiring Australia.” His new work, co-authored by The Australia Institute, is a project that encourages households to switch from gas to solar-powered electricity.

The couple that Tesla mentioned in its post on LinkedIn are retirees living on a pension. They’ve lived in their home for 27 years and the home has recently been modernized to be a virtual power plant (VPP). Tesla recently opened up this VPP option to its customers in California and shared a list of benefits. You can read more about that here. Initially, though, the company launched its first VPP in Australia in July or August of 2019.

The couple’s home has both solar panels and Tesla Powerwall. Ms. Hicks told ABC 7.30, “It has made a difference to us in regards to our power. Our electricity bills are lower, which is a bonus for us. And also we’ve got the battery, which if we have power cuts, then obviously we won’t be without power.”

The couple participated in a Tesla VPP trial that also feeds power into the electricity grid. Due to this, their upgrades were paid for by a combination of state and federal grants. Ms. Hicks explained that they would not have been able to afford this on their own.

“There was no way that we would ever be able to afford to put the system in.

“And there’d be so many pensioners out there that would benefit from this. Especially families, low-income families, they would benefit from it too.”

Dr. Griffith noted that the household sector is the easiest sector to decarbonize and that if they aggressively focus on this during this decade, they buy all of us time to solve other harder problems — beef, steel, agriculture, and cement, for example. The article noted that around 42% of Australia’s emissions are linked to fossil fuels across 10 million homes. According to the Lowy Institute, 74% of Australians agree that, “The benefits of taking further action on climate change will outweigh the costs.”

For the couple, their largest energy costs and source of emissions are their own two cars. Driving on fossil fuels is also expensive. Dr. Griffith explained:

“If you take a typical Australian vehicle, it’s 15 to 20 cents per kilometer to drive it if you’re buying $ 1.50-a-liter petrol. If that same size, same shape car is electric and you’re running that off solar on your roof, that will cost you about 1 cent per kilometer to drive.”

He also spoke about the heat pump:

“That heat pump can produce three or four units of heat for one unit of electricity in, so it’s enormously efficient, about four times more so than natural gas.

“I think we calculated natural gas running a hot shower, a long, eight-minute shower, might cost you about 80 cents. But if you’re running that with a heat pump off the solar on your roof, it’ll cost you about 10 cents.”

We Need More Tesla Virtual Power Plant Programs Like This

I would love to see a system like this implemented in low-income neighborhoods in the US. People like my landlady could benefit from this. A grant that would cover the cost of rewiring some of her homes and covering the Powerwall and solar panels would go a long way, and would also help with grid resilience in the case of hurricanes — which we get a lot of.

Many living in low-income areas see something like solar power and batteries as an investment that only the rich can afford. The idea of clean energy homes is something that is foreign to many of my own neighbors. Over the past couple of years, my Entergy bill has gotten noticeably higher even as I have used the same amount of energy.

To fully convert to clean energy, older homes such as my own would need extra work such as rewiring, closing gas valves, and in some cases, entirely demolishing and rebuilding. For low-income areas especially, this is out of reach.

And not to mention: where would we temporarily move to if our home had to be rebuilt? During Ida, I had friends in the Tesla community tell me, “Just get solar and Powerwall and you’ll be fine.” I can’t just get it, because for one thing, I don’t own — I rent. And if my landlady was to pay for the upgrades, my rent would increase considerably. My home might even need to be rebuilt. I would have to move and so would my neighbor who lives in the other duplex. So it’s not as simple as just buying solar panels and a Powerwall. You have to prepare your home, and many in these communities don’t have the ability to make that kind of investment.

This is why I think we could benefit from such a grant here in the U.S. Many low-income areas would greatly benefit from a reduced power bill, and the grid would become more resilient and cleaner in the meantime.


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