Fifty thousand homes in SA will be given free solar panels and batteries under a new deal struck between billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk and the SA government.

It’s part of a move to build a 250-megawatt “virtual power plant”, the world’s largest, to reduce SA’s notoriously high energy bills. The ABC describes it as “distributed electricity generation … a bit like the internet. Or bitcoin”.

A trial in Housing Trust properties has already begun and it’s expected that 1100 homes will receive the systems by June 2019. After the trial a further 24,000 systems will be installed in Housing Trust properties.

A similar scheme would then roll out in SA households, bringing the total to at least 50,000.

The project would "use people's homes as a way to generate energy for the South Australian grid," Premier Jay Weatherill said in a statement. Participating households will benefit with savings on their energy bills and surplus energy generated will be distributed across the grid. "More renewable energy means cheaper power for all South Australians."

Last year Tesla installed a 100-megawatt lithium-ion battery in the state’s mid-north to counter SA’s energy problems. It followed the great state-wide blackout of 2016.

The new project will be assisted by the Weatherill government with a $2 million grant and a $30 million loan from the Renewable Technology Fund.

It’s not the first time a virtual power plant scheme has been trialled in Australia. There’s already one operating in South Australia under AGL. But the new scheme would be the first of its size in the world.

Premier Weatherill announced the plan on Saturday, one month ahead of the state election.

Liberal opposition leader Steven Marshall announced a similar plan last year, to facilitate the installation of batteries in 40,000 South Australian homes.

Members of the public who wish to participate in the program can register their interest here.