Swiss fund to finance rollout of 10,000 solar-plus-battery systems


Thousands of Western Australian (WA) homes may soon be connected in a virtual power plant (VPP) project after Swiss fund manager SUSI Partners acquired a 50% stake in Perth-based renewable energy company Starling Energy Group which, through its retail arm Plico Energy, specialises in delivering integrated solar PV and battery energy storage systems for the residential sector.

As part of the deal, carried out through SUSI’s Energy Transition Fund (SETF), the fund manager has committed to finance the rollout of more than 10,000 solar PV and battery energy storage systems to be leased to residential customers.

SUSI said that once sufficient scale has been reached, individual systems could be operated as a VPP, using software to optimise consumption and dispatch patterns of multiple distributed energy systems while also providing grid services.

SUSI investment team managing director Richard Braakenburg said the transaction supports Australia’s move towards a decentralised energy system.

“We are committed to supporting the move away from centralised and emissions-intensive energy production towards an energy system that is decentralised, clean and empowers consumers,” he said.

“Western Australia is perfectly positioned to be at the forefront of this shift that needs to take place on a global scale to mitigate climate change, and we are happy to partner with Plico and WA communities to deliver this change.”

The agreement means participants will avoid paying for the equipment and installation up front with customers to pay a membership fee that covers the cost of the solar modules, in-home batteries and associated infrastructure.

“SETF’s funding commitment ensures that customers face no up-front costs, thus significantly increasing demand and accelerating the deployment of the systems,” SUSI said in a statement.

Plico, which entered the Australian renewable energy market in 2019 with the launch of the Dunsborough Community Energy Project, the nation’s first privately funded VPP, said it has installed 430 solar-plus-battery systems in the past 18 months and plans to more than double that number in the next year.

The company said its approach allows people to create and consume their own solar power energy day and night and at the same time collectively build a grid-scale battery which can be used as a VPP, allowing more variable renewable energy to enter the grid.

The latest announcement comes after Plico earlier this year revealed it had secured a $4 million capital injection that it said would allow it to grow its presence in the market.

That came after SUSI agreed in 2019 to provide $50 million infrastructure funding to support the rollout of residential solar-plus-storage systems in WA. That deal allowed for the aggregation of 1,000 individual systems into a VPP.

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