Inside Clean Energy: What’s a Virtual Power Plant? Bay Area Consumers Will Soon Find Out

Inside Climate News

East Bay Community Energy, Peninsula Clean Energy and Silicon Valley Clean Energy have announced that they are working with the solar company Sunrun on a program that will give discounted solar panels and battery storage systems to up to 6,000 households and businesses.

The systems will have two purposes: Providing renewable backup power to those customers, and also enabling them to band together when needed to send electricity out to the grid, with up to 20 megawatts of battery capacity.

Another term for this kind of system is a “virtual power plant,” and anyone who’s been reading me for a while knows that I geek out at the potential of virtual power plants to make the electricity system cleaner and more reliable.

Sunrun, based in San Francisco, is the country’s largest installer of home solar and batteries. This would be the largest virtual power plant that Sunrun has ever created and one of the largest by any provider in the country.

“What I think is really cool is that a single system, a rooftop residential solar-plus-storage system, will get installed in a day or two and then we’ll immediately be providing direct benefits to the household where we installed it,” said Nicholas Smallwood, Sunrun’s vice president of business development.

“As we install more and more and more to the larger area, we can link them together and provide benefits to the larger area without having to wait for a single large asset to be built like you do with utility scale,” he said.

This latter benefit is one of the big selling points for the Bay Area electricity providers. They plan to use the combined capacity of the batteries in their planning to maintain the grid’s reliability. This means there would be less of a need to rely on natural gas plants and other resources.

“This is the way that utilities and specifically electric service utilities should be engaging in the push for mitigating climate change,” said J.P. Ross, senior director of local development for East Bay Community Energy.

Access to backup power is a big deal because of wildfire risk. Pacific Gas & Electric last year started conducting massive planned blackouts to reduce the risk of sparks from electricity equipment, leaving many East Bay Community Energy customers in the dark.

Read more here: