Virtual Power Plants

Solar is awesome here in New Mexico – payback period is around 7-10 years for systems that last 25 or more years – creating more than a 15% return on your investment. But the more solar that gets added to the grid, the more grid distribution lines get “congested” meaning more energy is being produced than is being used, and since the grid was originally designed to be Big Power Plant -> Transmission Lines -> Distribution Circuits -> Homes and Businesses, we have to modernize our grid!

The simplest solution is add storage batteries when you add solar, so you can power your home well into the night with the unused extra solar produced during the day – this both keeps the circuits “unclogged” and helps defer expensive Transmission & Distribution upgrades which means lower bills for all ratepayers. But storage is still too expensive and NM utilities do not yet pay you to help run the grid!

Now, imagine if 1000 homes, or like in Australia, up to 50,000 homes had solar and storage – you would no longer need extra power plants for the “peak” loads in the hot part of the day when the sun goes down, again saving ratepayers lots of money. Instead, a network of these batteries can be dispatched by the utility to meet the peak loads. Think “Bottom Up – not Top Down.” We can replace the dirty fossil fuel central stations with a distributed network of small producers! That’s a virtual power plant (VPP).

More than 2,000 community owned renewable energy cooperatives have formed in the European Union. We need to be able to do that here.

Bill McKibben says VPPs are the fastest and cheapest way to attack climate change!

Vermont’s Green Mountain Power has a battery program that combines BYOB (bring your own battery) or buy one on time via your regular utility bill and get paid annually for the services it provides the grid.

The Rocky Mountain Institute published this paper on the benefits of Virtual Power Plants.

Colorado has a pilot program to show the value of VPPs – and New Mexico needs to step up and create a regulatory framework so homeowners can be part of the clean energy transition. The federal government’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – lovingly referred to as FERC – already has a mandate for states to allow VPPs- FERC 2222.

Want to dive deeper? the MIT Review on the future of VPPs or Scientific American’s take on the flexibility VPPs give our grid. Google says the VPP is the only resource with a net negative cost to society.

Don’t like reading but love great podcasts? ISLR on VPPs

Ever jealous of forward thinking European countries? Netherlands wants to run their grid by interconnecting the EVs – think how much of the day your car just sits there – that’s called Vehicle to Grid. They charge their cars when energy is cheap, and use their cars to dispatch energy to the grid when the sun is down or the wind is not blowing.

With the right regulatory framework (that’s what New Mexico People’s Energy Cooperative has been working on with the NM PRC and our state Energy office to help create), we could run our grid off our cars and charge them with renewables when the sun shines and the wind blows!

Thank you, Bill Althouse, on your help to learn about these resources.