February 16, 2024

VPP: What is a Virtual Power Plant?

Have you ever heard of a virtual power plant? While the term may sound like something out of science fiction, the technology is very real, and has the potential to be very impactful. As the concept is developed further, you may start to see them adopted in more and more locations, including your neighborhood! As virtual power plants overlap with solar and storage solutions, we’ve spent some time investigating the topic, and have put this article together to give you a primer on this technology.

What is a Virtual Power Plant?

A Virtual Power Plant, or VPP, is a network of interconnected energy generation and storage units which are integrated under one controlling system. While a traditional power plant requires these units to be in one centralized but distant location, a virtual power plant links decentralized units in a localized area.

How does a Virtual Power Plant Work?

Traditionally, a power plant produces power for the grid, and then distributes the generated power throughout the grid using a series of high and low voltage lines. These plants are located throughout the country, but they send their power over large distances. The US energy grid is actually three grids, or interconnections, and for California residents, power comes from the Western interconnection. The Eastern and Texas interconnections operate in a similar fashion, but there is not much transfer between these grids - each one tends to service their own users, and there is little opportunity for one grid to assist another in the case of an emergency outage.

So, traditional power plants must contend with the supply and demand management of a large geographical area, often trying to balance wildly fluctuating factors. As much as this operation is impressive, it cannot offer localized maneuverability or flexibility in terms of how it offers and supplies power. A virtual power plant is the localized solution to this kind of large scale grid. Though the components of a virtual power plant are decentralized, they are in close enough proximity to one another that meaningful adjustments can be made quickly and effectively. They can adjust to the needs of the community and the realities of the market with more agility than a utility, and this can greatly benefit the members of a local VPP.

Solar and Virtual Power Plants

Solar occupies an important place within the concept of a VPP. Though not the only power generator which can be included in a virtual power plant, solar is the most approachable for consumers. Things like wind, hydro, biogas, and more are not generally available to individuals, but nearly every home and/or property can support a solar installation. With solar and battery storage making up the majority of the enrolled power production units, having a solar system on your home means you are primed to take advantage of the strengths of a VPP should you wish to enroll in one. Even if there isn’t a current VPP effort in your area, just having solar and a storage system means you could get in on the action once one does arrive. By installing solar + a storage solution on your home, you’re essentially prequalifying yourself for participation in a virtual power plant.

Customers who are interested in this kind of technology, and the savings and security that come with it, can consider products like those offered by Swell to be the gateway to VPP access. There are multiple virtual power plants offered through the site that customers can join. Even if you’re not ready to enroll in a VPP, it’s not a bad idea to set your solar system up in such a way that it could easily be incorporated into a VPP in the future. Think of it as mirroring the way we design successful solar systems - with a dedication to current quality and an eye towards future expansion and improvement.

Virtual Power for a Modern World

Solar adopters don’t have to be tech wizards to take advantage of the advancements in solar and new opportunities like the virtual power plant. Our expert consultants are ready to help set you up with a solar system, and will guide you through the process of becoming VPP ready should you want to take advantage of the many benefits of collaborative & local power production.

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