Tesla sought to answer that question by creating the first centrally-owned virtual power plant (VPP) in Australia. Power could be generated within communities and excess power sold to the grid. But this needed central co-ordination of the systems, and complex agreements with the energy grid. It also required funding from private and public sources.
Rooftop solar panels and batteries were orchestrated as a fleet operating like a grid scale power plant to create the South Australia Virtual Power Plant (SA VPP). It uses internet connectivity and proprietary cloud-based software to charge or discharge energy batteries, trading it on the National Energy Market.
This required Pinsent Masons to create bespoke contracts relating to distributed rooftop solar and battery systems and to navigate the regulatory issues involved. The firm worked on funding for the project with financial advisor Planum Partners, and worked with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Australia's 'green bank', on its provision of senior debt to the project.
This was the first VPP of its kind in Australia meaning that there were no blueprints or precedents for Pinsent Masons to follow.
The SA VPP now provides cheaper, cleaner power to residents of social housing properties. The project gives access to discounted power arrangements for thousands of vulnerable families in low socio-economic neighbourhoods.
There were no up-front costs for social housing tenants and they were guaranteed the same low energy price whether using energy from the solar panels or from the grid.
The project was complex and innovative and will play a vital role in improving access to affordable, renewable energy across South Australia, and will act as a model for other projects.
Pinsent Masons won the Sustainability Award at the FT Innovative Lawyer Awards Asia Pacific 2021 for its role advising Tesla on the SA VPP.