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Largest virtual power plant in U.S. to provide low-cost electricity amid extreme heat: 'More resilient for everyone'

The program's first year was a success.

The program's first year was a success.

Photo Credit: iStock

California is home to the nation's largest virtual power plant, and it will likely play a critical role in supporting the state's electric grid during the hot summer months. 

Electrek reported that Sunrun, a solar and storage company, has created a virtual power plant, called CalReady, which connects customers' solar-plus-storage systems to address power grid demands, reduce the risk of rolling blackouts, and lower electricity costs. 

Virtual power plants are made up of small-scale energy resources, like solar batteries. Hundreds to thousands of homes can be connected to provide power like a traditional power plant. However, this type of system uses stored renewable energy. 

Sunrun's Peak Power Rewards program launched in 2023 with a partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Sunrun incentivized 8,500 customers with a $750 reward to share their stored energy with the grid from August to October between 7 and 9 p.m. 

The first-of-its-kind collaboration came together after the 2022 record-breaking heat wave in California that saw temperatures reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit in Long Beach and 116 degrees in Sacremento, per the Los Angeles Times. 

The extreme heat strained the energy infrastructure, and Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a State of Emergency proclamation to generate action from energy providers. That led to the "Energy Efficiency Actions to Enhance Summer 2022 and 2023 Electric Reliability" issuance by the California Public Utilities Commission, which led to the Sunrun and PG&E partnership. 

The program's first year was a success. The residential storage system supplied an average of 27 megawatts of power during peak hours for 90 days. During certain peaks, it supplied power sufficient for over 20,000 homes. 

This wasn't the first residential virtual power plant, though. Sunrun launched one in New England in 2022. This program supplied more than 1.8 gigawatt-hours of energy to the grid and ran from June to August between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. 

This year's CalReady power plant has nearly doubled, with 16,200 homes with solar storage systems, and it is running from May through October. The virtual power plant will be available to support the grid between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. and is expected to be utilized up to 35 times, according to Electrek.

"A typical customer won't even notice that they're sharing their stored power to bolster the grid while getting compensated for doing so," Sunrun CEO Mary Powell said, per the news outlet. 

"By sharing their clean solar power, they are making California's grid more resilient for everyone," Powell added in a statement. 

With rolling blackouts, the aging, traditional power grid has shown that it is having trouble handling the rising temperatures and increase in extreme weather. Solar battery storage not only makes the grid more resilient, but it also lessens the need to rely on gas and oil.

Relying less on dirty fuel power plants means we can reduce the amount of polluting gases in  the atmosphere, improving air quality for communities. That can lessen the possibility of pollution-linked issues like heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, respiratory illnesses, and asthma.

Using solar energy can also save you money. In fact, solar panels can save you around $1,500 per year. According to Greenlancer, they can even increase the value of your home by around $9,000.

As of May, Sunrun's CalReady program was still enrolling participants on an ongoing basis, and there's still time for more homes to reap the benefits of a California power grid that is able to handle the heat — and cut back on polluting gases and save or earn money in the process. 

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