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Can VPPs Solve Pandemic-Related Changes to Energy Optimization?

Presley Batchelor
Aug 11, 2020

Guidehouse Insights

With people staying home due to the coronavirus outbreak, residential electricity demand has increased compared to decreases in demand throughout the C&I sector. These changes pose a challenge to forecasts previously implemented by grid operators. Virtual power plants (VPPs), however, are a solution capable of alleviating the inefficiencies of grid management during these times of variability.

Understanding the Change in Electricity Consumption

An ongoing study at Columbia University tracks the electricity usage of 300 apartments in New York City; the analysis during the stay-at-home order showed a 23% increase in electricity consumption during the weekdays. However, New York City saw an overall decrease in electricity demand, with New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) linking this decrease with the significant reduction in commercial energy consumption. NYISO stated, “As more data is available, our forecasting team will further refine forecasts based on the societal changes we are seeing. These forecasts will help our grid operators prepare for these evolving load profiles.” With states and companies all over the country having similar responses to COVID-19, these takeaways from New York City can be applied to many parts of the US.

A VPP’s Role in Load Balancing

According to Guidehouse Insights’ report, Virtual Power Plant Overview, VPPs optimize behind-the-meter and front-of-the-meter technologies to increase flexible capacity for power plants, furthering reliability and offering an autonomous approach to grid management. One of the many ways we see VPPs is renewable power with battery storage paired with DER. VPP platforms can be beneficial in terms of balancing for any asset, whether it is supply, load, or storage. VPPs are shifting to support a combination of these assets, too, which are known as mixed-asset VPPs. VPP integration is seen on large and small scales; one example is the Southern California Edison (SCE) Sunrun VPP. In this project, SCE and Sunrun are partnering to aggregate capacity from 300 of Sunrun’s residential Brightbox rechargeable batteries on the AutoGrid Flex Platform. The VPP uses the networked batteries to best meet customer and grid needs, which is helpful in times where demand varies.

Moving Forward from COVID-19

COVID-19 has not ceased to produce new data surrounding electricity use or affect lives in new ways throughout the pandemic. Grid operators will continue to adapt aggressively to changing load patterns. Beyond the residential segment’s increased demand for electricity, the housing segment faces unique challenges, whether density-related or from building inefficiencies. These challenges increase the variability in consumption—something that VPPs excel in addressing. Utilities and OEMs must continue monitoring trends and factors that play into energy consumption. The shift to working from home may not be so temporary, who knows what kinds of demands for flexibility lurk around the corner?