• Virtual Power Plants
  • Solar Plus Storage
  • Non-Wires Alternative
  • DER
  • Grid Resilience

Virtual Power Plants Can Enhance Grid Resiliency

Dec 06, 2022

Guidehouse Insights

As Hurricane Ian knocked out power for millions of people across Cuba, Florida, and other southeastern and mid-Atlantic US states when it made landfall in late September 2022, one community in southwest Florida didn’t lose power at all, despite being in the storm’s direct path. Babcock Ranch, near Fort Myers, is a planned community of over 2,000 homes that is entirely solar powered. Two utility-scale solar arrays, located a few miles from the community and paired with an energy storage system built and operated by Florida Power & Light, provide its main source of power, with the larger grid providing power when solar and battery output is not sufficient. Distributed solar PV arrays are also located throughout the community on solar trees, commercial rooftops, and other public structures. Additionally, many residents have added rooftop solar systems and home battery energy storage systems to boost resilience. The distribution wires running through the community are buried underground, which undoubtedly aided in keeping the lights on during the storm; however, the contribution of distributed solar plus storage can’t be discounted.

Distributed Generation Plus Storage Can Be Built to Withstand Natural Disasters

By locating the utility-scale sources powering the Babcock Ranch community close to the customers they serve and incorporating more distributed energy resources (DER) within the community itself, the developers have reduced reliance on traditional transmission and distribution lines, which can span many miles. This effectively decreases the overall area associated with electricity generation, transmission, and distribution, lowering the probability that a natural disaster will knock out a portion of the system. By moving away from the centralized fossil fuel power generation model, the community has removed the potential for a single point of failure and thus increased its grid resilience. In the past, if a fossil fuel plant or a transmission or distribution line supplying an area was compromised, widespread power outages could occur. With a decentralized model, if one source is taken out, other energy sources can compensate to maintain operations until the compromised asset is brought back online.

Virtual Power Plants Can Accelerate Decarbonization Efforts and Increase Resiliency

Virtual power plants (VPPs) offer an opportunity to expand on the ideas implemented at Babcock Ranch. Instead of a single community powered by a group of clean DER, entire territories could be powered by a network of intelligently managed and optimized DER. By increasing renewable generation and energy storage capacity in front of the meter, expanding DER capacity behind the meter, and connecting them via VPP platforms, larger regions could be powered 24/7 without the need for fossil fuel backups. Using connected DER is also a more efficient grid management solution that generates value for both customers and utilities year-round, whereas backup generators may only add value under certain conditions.

Furthermore, rather than expanding traditional grid infrastructure like poles and wires to accommodate load growth, deploying front-of-the-meter energy storage or distributed energy storage behind the meter can both relieve congestion and boost resilience. Because these systems are not as susceptible as poles and wires to outages from adverse events like hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, or accidents, downtime from those events would be minimized or even eliminated, as was the case with Babcock Ranch. In fact, many US utilities have pursued these non-wires alternatives with the explicit goal of boosting grid resilience in addition to achieving capacity relief. An energy future where resources are decentralized, decarbonized, and connected benefits everyone involved by being cleaner and more resilient than the centralized fossil fuel generation system of the past.