Are virtual power plants really the answer to the energy crisis? Virtual power plants are the talk of the town: provide extra electricity by merging multiple energy resources into one. Et voila! But even this might be too blunt a tool for our future needs. The fleet of small-scale solar systems, batteries and flexible loads in our electricity system will grow rapidly in coming years. But how to coordinate them efficiently in our complex electricity grid, and how to make sure their owners get a fair return? Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) are the talk of the town right now. But they may turn out to be like using a sledgehammer on a walnut. More nuanced systems are being developed to integrate large numbers of small scale solar systems and batteries into the grid. If successful, they will be able to apply market principles to deploy and reward these so-called distributed energy resources. The concept of a VPP is fantastic – take a whole host of small, individual, controllable, distributed energy resources such as battery systems, hot water systems, electric vehicle chargers, air conditioners and pool pumps, and aggregate them into something far larger and more useful. Taken together, they can indeed be operated like a modestly sized power station. If you need a little more power output from your virtual power plant, simply wind back Mr and Mrs Jones’s air conditioner a little, turn down Joe Bloggs’s pool pump and increase the output from the Nguyen family’s battery. Voilà! But there are several problems with this. What if Joe Bloggs is connected a long way from where the extra power is needed, making his pool pump the least efficient resource to use on this occasion? Or what if the electricity network in the Nguyens’ area is already close to its technical limit? Or what if the Joneses are throwing a party today and don’t want to skimp on air conditioning? This is where we need to look past the simple VPP model, to a more comprehensive approach – a “VPP 2.0”, if you will. One example is the CONSORT trial project being run on Tasmania’s Bruny Island, which links up 33 homes with battery storage into a single network, orchestrating their operation via “network aware coordination” algorithms. This system takes account of variations in price signals, both in location and time, and then manages the batteries’ outputs accordingly.
Independent 15th March 2018 read more »