Two Benefits of Virtual Power Plants (VPPs)

(Updated 4/16/2022 with additional benefits information.)

Everything is virtual

Many of our lives changed significantly in March 2020, when we left our offices and cubicles and decamped to makeshift desks in our homes. Since that time, those of us who are still working from home (WFH) have interacted with others via telephone, Cisco WebEx, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, and other virtual collaboration tools.

At the same time, some people have plunged neck-deep into the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for applications ranging from joining the Bored Ape Yacht Club to using NFTs for decentralized digital identity.

And I haven’t even gotten into Second Life v2.0 and its ilk.

In short, we’re doing a lot of things virtually.

We live in an increasingly virtual world. You can hold virtual meetings with virtual friends using virtual reality systems hosted on virtual servers. 

From https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/so-what-exactly-are-virtual-power-plants

Virtual power plants (VPPs) and the Shelter Valley VPP project

Oh, and there’s one more thing that we’re doing virtually.

And in energy circles, one of the biggest buzzwords in recent years is the virtual power plant, or VPP.

From https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/so-what-exactly-are-virtual-power-plants

What is a virtual power plant (VPP)? Let me provide an example of a test implementation of a VPP by Alternative Energy Systems Consulting, Inc. (AESC) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E).

Shelter Valley. By Stalbaum – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15825812

This 18 month pilot project is described by SDG&E on its page about the Shelter Valley Virtual Power Plant Project.

As part of our Sustainability Strategy and commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, SDG&E is launching a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) Pilot Project in 2022, an initiative to strengthen community resilience and electric reliability in the unincorporated community of Shelter Valley in East San Diego County. 

From https://www.sdge.com/major-projects/shelter-valley-virtual-power-plant-pilot-project

Two benefits of virtual power plants

SDG&E realizes that you can’t just talk about the features of virtual power plants. SDG&E’s customers don’t care about features. Its customers only care about what’s in it for them. So SDG&E collected some benefits of virtual power plants.

(4/16/2022: For additional information on benefits, click here.)

The first benefit: community resilience and electric reliability

The first benefit that SDG&E identified for VPPs can be found in the text above, where it noted that virtual power plants can “strengthen community resilience and electric reliability.”

Now I’ll grant that Californa isn’t Texas, but there are more and more times where California’s electric power goes out, due either to very high temperatures, very high winds, or very high fire danger.

So SDG&E consumers (and consumers from other electric utilities) are more interested in electric reliability. If VPPs can provide that reliability, great!

So how does a VPP strengthen community resilience and electric reliability?

A key element of a VPP is its distributed energy resources, or DERs. With home-based solar power, batteries, smart thermostats, and other energy technologies, the days of a single centralized power source are over.

The second benefit: lower investment and operating costs

But rather than siloing these DERs, a VPP arranges to have them work as a single unit, just like a conventional power plant, but with a difference.

In other words, a VPP can mimic or potentially replace a conventional power plant and help address distribution network bottlenecks, but with lower investment and operating costs.

From https://www.sdge.com/major-projects/shelter-valley-virtual-power-plant-pilot-project

Note that SDG&E doesn’t take this a step further and say that this will result in a reduction in building of conventional power plants.

St. Clair Power Plant.
Since VPPs look like residential/commercial communities (because they are), most of us think that VPPs are prettier than many conventional power plants such as this one. By Cgord (talk) – (Cgord (talk)) created this work entirely by himself. Transferred from Wikipedia., GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19912142

And SDG&E definitely doesn’t say that this will result in lower rates for energy consumers. But maybe some energy utility will make this commitment.

A musical postlude

A major component of a VPP is the solar energy that is generated by solar cells on people’s homes. Of course, solar energy is nothing new, as those of us who recall a certain song know all too well.

From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y43XLVqjytQ

I’ll grant that there are differing views

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