Ara Ake Innovation Award 2023

This category recognises innovative outside the box thinking, based on a solution or solutions that challenge traditional models & ways of doing things. Submission may be a technology solution, a process to achieve better outcomes for PV and/or BESS, a new PV based business model, and/or a different approach to a common problem around PV installation. It should challenge existing processes or technology with the ability to be scaled & made available to the wider industry/markets.

Winner: Our Energy
for Kia Whitingia (for Reureu Kotahitanga Limited), Halcombe, New Zealand

Through Our Energy's purpose built energy sharing platform and associated retail service, our challenge was to capture as much community value as possible for Kia Whitingia, an energy collective based in Manawatū. Kia Whitingia is currently made up of 5 marae and 3 whānau with solar, plus 12 other whānau, all with whakapapa links to local marae / hapū. The project was initially made possible via MBIE's Māori and Public Housing Renewable Energy Fund. Kia Whitingia comes from a proverb, ‘kia whitingia e te rā kia puhia e te hau’ - to be shone upon and blown by the wind.

Our Energy operates Aotearoa New Zealand's only dedicated energy sharing platform and associated retail service. At the heart of this innovation is using our proprietary software algorithms based on half-hourly smart meter interval data to create energy transactions between multiple community participants (a process that we refer to as 'matching'). No Excel spreadsheets are harmed. Community value is captured in two main ways:

  1. enabling Kia Whitingia to trade their own locally produced energy at $0.06 / kWh (~60% cheaper than market); and
  2. allowing excess over and above their local trades to be sold on to the New Zealand wholesale electricity market, to be channelled into a community fund or 'pool' for later redistribution amongst community members. In this way, short-term wholesale price risk is in fact circulated back into the community as a medium/long-term benefit. 

This innovation provides for an efficient way of capturing maximum community value in situations and setups involving multiple 'host' ICPs of distributed energy resources. Access to a 'community manager' dashboard is provided to Kia Whitingia, which provides a community-level view of demand, supply and trading insights. The community is then able to use this data to make informed decisions about further energy related investments that it might make and/or demand management initiatives and strategies that could be employed.

Kia Whitingia is now in full operational mode with the planned addition of further members and over $10,000 has already been distributed to the community since the project started. We are showing how existing electricity market systems and processes can, with the right partners, investment and incentives, provide benefits for communities who wish to take a more active or direct role in the energy transition and, in doing so, be empowered to exercise rangatiratanga to help address energy hardship for their whānau. Kia Whitingia’s business model is fully scalable and can be made available to other communities.

Find out more about Our Energy >

Runner Up: solarZero
for The solarZero VPP

The challenge was to use distributed household battery resources to help meet winter peak demand. The batteries work as a virtual power plant which means they are aggregated and made visible to Transpower just like a conventional power station. That enables them to be dispatched. solarZero was the first to use the new “dispatch notified load” (DNL) system that went live in the wholesale market in April this year. At the end of winter solarZero has provided 30MW peak, 22MW in the North Island and 8MW in the South Island and created a world first – dispatchable distributed batteries.

Dispatching (via the formal dispatch process) household batteries to help meet peak electricity demand has been discussed in the literature but has never actually been done. The challenge is to make the amount of energy available visible to the dispatch system (run by Transpower) and to communicate a dispatch instruction from Transpower to thousands of batteries within a few seconds and to communicate back to Transpower what the batteries are doing in near real time.
The key to being dispatched is visibility and reliability. To ensure the power system remains stable, Transpower must know what is happening minute by minute. solarZero developed the communication and IT infrastructure so that 8,000 batteries could be seen and instructed by Transpower via the wholesale market.

The out of the box thinking is that at the push of a button solarZero increased the number of generators that Transpower could dispatch from 200 to around 8,200. That is a massive increase in the number of systems. To our knowledge, this is the first time in the world that a system operator has full view of distributed household batteries and can dispatch them, just like they can dispatch a normal power station.
Transpower created two “power stations” for solarZero; one in the North Island and one in the South Island. solarZero’s household batteries were aggregated to these two power stations.

To add to the complexity of this project, Transpower used an entirely new dispatch system for the first time. This system, dispatch notified load, was implemented in April this year as part of the Real Time Pricing project. solarZero is the first user of this new system. Both Transpower and solarZero had to work together to test and validate this new dispatch system.

This project has demonstrated and proved that aggregated distributed energy resources can participate and be price-dispatched in a liberalised wholesale electricity market. With 8,000 system participating, which grew the number of generators that Transpower could dispatch by 4,000% in one step, solarZero has proved out the concept of a virtual power plant.

In August 2021 the lights went out for around 30,000 households around New Zealand. The industry did not want to see that occur again.

We worked closely with Transpower, Ara Ake (who provided funding for this innovation pilot) and the Electricity Authority to understand both the regulatory and the technical aspects of enrolling thousands of batteries into the dispatch system. The VPP concept had to work both technically and had to comply with the requirements of the Electricity Code. This development builds on the work that solarZero did with Transpower and the Electricity Authority to develop a reserves product into the electricity market. 

Transpower developed two power stations for solarZero, one in the North Island and one in the South Island. solarZero then tagged its systems to each of the power stations. solarZero needed to develop a dispatch end point through which solarZero communicated with the dispatch system. Transpower decided that dispatch notified load (DNL) was the most appropriate mechanism within the suite of dispatch mechanisms. The challenge was that DNL was new and had never been used before.Together with our technology partner Panasonic, we built and tested a centralized system for instructing thousands of batteries within seconds. This innovation took considerable development and testing. Transpower required that the systems could be partially discharged. For example, we may offer 30MW but Transpower may wish to dispatch only for say 10MW. We needed to acknowledge the dispatch instruction and discharge the level specified by Transpower – not a trivial issue given the “power station” involves some 8,000 individual battery systems. A further challenge was using DNL for the first time, which operates in reverse to the way the normal dispatch system works. Under this system solarZero had to offer maximum capacity at $20,000/MWh when it did not want to be dispatched and then drop the price and offer zero load when it wanted to be dispatched. As a consequence of the learnings further changes will be made to the Electricity Code to address the issues that this project encountered with DNL.

Transpower were able to dispatch the solarZero batteries via two virtual power plants, one in the North Island and one in the South, i.e. the system worked. To our knowledge this is the first time distributed household battery resources have been dispatched in a power system globally. This ground breaking project points to the future where VPP technology can become an integral and reliable part of the power system. At the push of a button the number of dispatchable power stations increased from 200 to 8,200. The future has arrived.

Find out more about solarZero >