Swiss asset manager invests in Western Australia’s community owned virtual power plant


Swiss investment firm SUSI Partners has realized its second investment in Australia, having allocated up to $50 million for a residential solar PV and battery storage project in Western Australia. The project allows for the aggregation of 1,000 individual systems into a virtual power plant, with an objective to support the local grid.

Early reports last year suggested SUSI Partners would provide financial backing for the Dunsborough Community Energy Project, later rebranded as Plico Energy, but the company was not willing to comment on the arrangement. Last week, the Swiss investment firm, with a focus on financing renewable energy infrastructure, confirmed its involvement in the project, which represents its second investment in Australia.

SUSI Partners made its foray into the Australian market after it fully acquired and provided financing to construct a 34 MW solar PV plant with storage optionality located in Middlemount, Queensland. At the time, the firm said it viewed the Australian market as highly attractive despite policy uncertainty.

The firm’s latest investment is critically important for the Plico Energy energy-as-a-service project, making it possible for the participants to avoid paying the equipment and installation up-front. The innovative equity structure of the project allows for a share of the proceeds to be distributed to local communities to fund their initiatives, as well as help members save money on energy bills from the outset and even more when SUSI hands it shares to the community after 10 years.

“This new investment exemplifies our holistic approach in financing the energy transition. By combining a community-focussed solution with the optionality of a VPP configuration, we place people at the center of the energy transition, while delivering fully contracted returns,” Matteo Zanni, Director at SUSI Partners, said.

The project is described as a community built, owned and managed renewable energy facility, which will centrally control the network of solar PV and battery systems provided and installed for a flat fee. Delivered by Starling Energy Group, the project aims at reducing household energy costs and moving toward a 90% renewable energy target across the Southwest, expanding to other parts of the state.

According to Starling Energy, the technology chosen for the project utilises a novel DC linked architecture that allows for a flexible and easily maintainable asset that can be managed as a fully serviced and operated virtual power plant helping to protect the grid from fluctuations and households from blackouts.

As announced by the group behind the project last year, the VPP with 1000 households will be able to provide 6.5 MW of solar at peak, 9.6 GWh of energy per year and displace 7 kt of carbon emissions every year. Under the scheme, homeowners and businesses will receive 1 Redback 5.5 KVA inverter, 6.6kw of Suntech 300w solar panels, 9.6kwh of Pylontech (LiFePo4) batteries and installation by trained installers, for a fee of $35 per week. For every system installed as part of the project, Redback will donate $250 to a community fund.

In a recognition of the unique business model, the project recently won the “Energy Innovation of the Year” award in the Australian Institute of Energy, 2019 WA Energy Awards. “We think the future grid should be owned by the community and our innovative model ensures that our community will be at the centre of this transition,” said Brian Innes, Managing Director of Starling Energy.

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