New York wants to put a virtual power plant on 300 rooftops


Nobody wants a power plant in the backyard. But New Yorkers, at least, may put one on the roof.

The utility Con Edison announced on Monday (June 15) that it’s offering solar panels and batteries to 300 homes in Brooklyn and Queens so it can create a virtual power plant for New York’s grid (pdf). The system will generate 1.8 megawatts and hold 4 megawatt-hours of battery storage. ConEd hopes to turn distributed solar power into what is effectively a single power source by adding sophisticated software that manages the flow of electrons into the grid.

Residential customers will be able to lease the solar and lithium-ion battery systems from ConEd (and its partners solar-panel manufacturer Sunpower and energy storage company SunVerge) for a small fee on their utility bill. These “grid assets” can then serve as backup power, as well as a reliable source of electricity and balancing services for the grid. At the moment, there is no net metering scheme in place for these homeowners to sell the power back to the grid.

ConEd has limited options to meet rising electricity demand: consume less power, build pricey fossil fuel plants, or tap more renewable sources. Since solar, wind and other renewables vary with the weather, grid operators get nervous when there’s too much, or too little. This $15 million pilot, part of New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision, seeks to transform these distributed renewables into single source of electricity and smooth out peaks in generation.

Screenshot 2016-06-15 12.04.53
Cloud days (blue line) creates spikes in energy production. Storage batteries (green line) smooth this curve so it can offer reliable grid power. (ConEdison)

ConEd’s customers are likely forcing the issue by installing so many new solar units themselves. More New Yorkers installed residential solar panels in 2014 than than all previous years combined. There’s now more than 3,000 customers with 80 MW (pdf) of clean energy capacity in the system. The key technology to integrate this new energy is cloud-based software that talks directly to the utility so electrons can be manage in near-real time, Sarah Singleton, senior vice president of marketing at Sunverge, told Greentech Media.

If successful, ConEd says it will let a new class of suppliers—aggregators of solar rooftop and battery systems—sell to the electrical grid. Similar projects are underway by Texas-based Austin, Southern California Edison and Vermont-based Green Mountain Power (which is using Tesla’s Powerwall batteries), reports MIT Technology Review.

The image above was taken by Toshihiro Oimatsu and shared under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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