Navigant Research Blog

The Invasion of the Storage-Enabled Virtual Power Plants

Anissa Dehamna — April 13, 2016

Energy CloudNavigant Research recently published a white paper detailing Five Trends for Energy Storage in 2016 and Beyond. One of these trends focuses on the coming invasion of energy storage-enabled virtual power plants (VPPs) into energy markets.

While the trend of energy-storage enabled VPPs entering into energy markets may sound ominous, it isn’t. It is simply a step forward in the transition away from a centralized power system toward a distributed energy system that resembles the Energy Cloud.

What Is a VPP?

A VPP is defined as a “system that relies upon software and a smart grid to remotely and automatically dispatch and optimize DER [distributed energy resources] via an aggregation and optimization platform linking retail to wholesale markets.” An energy storage system (ESS)-enabled VPP is a VPP that uses energy storage as the foundation of the plant. Storage acts as a foundational element because once storage is included in a VPP, the VPP becomes dispatchable and schedulable. In addition, other assets that are not schedulable—such as load or solar PV—become more attractive.

For example, solar PV can be included in a VPP, but in order to balance the uncertainty of energy generation availability, aggregators design and build portfolios that meet a commitment to a utility while minimizing risks (such as significant cloud cover causing the aggregator to miss its commitment). However, by using an ESS in a solar PV portfolio, the aggregator would have more flexibility designing a portfolio and could bid more confidently and aggressively in the market. Energy storage of all types adds flexibility to VPPs.

Gaining a Foothold

By the end of 2016, Navigant Research anticipates that ESS-enabled VPPs will have cleared the proof-of-concept stage. With pilots in Switzerland, California, New York, Kentucky, Australia, and Ontario, the ESS-enabled VPP trend is gaining a foothold in key markets in North America, Asia Pacific, and Europe. However, ESS-enabled VPPs have only been in operation for as little as a few months (with the exception of Ice Energy, which has been using the company’s Ice Bears in a similar fashion for the past several years). By the end of 2016, nearly all of these VPPs will have over a full year of operational data available.

Utilities and grid operators with these systems will learn how ESS-enabled VPPs operate and benefit the grid in periods of both extreme summer and winter weather. Utilities can use this data to build a rate case for ESS-enabled VPPs and give regulators a justification for allowing utilities to build and operate these systems. The primary risk for utilities is that regulators have not developed regulation around VPPs as an asset class—it remains to be seen whether utilities will own and operate VPPs exclusively, or if customers will have a choice of VPP-providers, similar to how customers can often choose their energy supplier.

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