With the world reaching its hottest global temperature earlier this month, power grids are being tested everywhere as they try to keep up with the rising temperatures. But battery maker sonnen (spelled with a lowercase “s”) may have the answer — “virtual power plants.”
As the Earth continues to warm, extreme weather events are putting power grids to the test, with 80% of outages in the last 20 years falling victim to the climate. And since severe weather doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, virtual power plants may be the only answer.
So what exactly is a virtual power plant? Think of it as a network of renewable energy sharing.
Let’s break that down on a small scale. Say you live in a neighborhood that collectively has solar panels. Some days, like when you’re out of the house all day, you don’t use a lot of your energy (or maybe none at all if your solar energy is more of a backup). But on other days — like if you’re experiencing a blackout due to an unprecedented heat wave — your energy system is working major overtime.
If your neighborhood was set up as a virtual power plant, all the energy you and your neighbors store is shared among you. This means that more energy is being stored over time, and less strain happens when you need to use a lot of energy — like on that 100-degree day.
On a larger scale, virtual power plants utilize power from all types of sources, from wind turbines to green businesses to your own home, to create a more stable, reliable power grid.
“Virtual power plants can help us keep the lights on and keep electricity affordable, using devices we’ve already bought and paid for, without building new power plants,” Mark Dyson, managing director of RMI, a sustainability nonprofit, told Inside Climate News.
Across the U.S., virtual power plants are starting to pop up everywhere. sonnen has partnered with Rocky Mountain Power in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming, signing up 3,500 customers and offering substantial rebates and credits for customers.
Other notable virtual power plants include Pacific Gas & Electric in California with 7,500 customers, Green Mountain Power in Vermont with 4,0000 batteries across customer homes and businesses, and Hawaiian Electric and energy company Swell working on an 80-megawatt virtual power plant to span three Hawaiian islands.
Blake Richetta, CEO of U.S. operations of sonnen, told Inside Climate News the combination of renewable energy and groups of batteries is “a recipe for the grid of the future.”
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