A Virtual Power Plant Comes to Orange and Rockland Counties

By Laura Burkhardt

Kudos to Orange and Rockland Utilities for bringing the first Virtual Power Plant (VPP) to Orange and Rockland Counties. In June O&R and Sunrun, a US-based provider of residential solar electricity, announced that the companies have received approval from the Public Service Commission to deploy rooftop solar and battery systems as part of a VPP project.

A VPP is a network of decentralized, medium-scale power generating units that are monitored, coordinated and controlled by a central control system. Typically these generating units are renewable energy resources such as rooftop solar, solar carports and other small solar installations, wind farms and battery storage. By being aggregated in a VPP, the assets can be forecasted, optimized, and traded like one single power plant. This is an important development in moving New York State to its renewable energy goals and putting renewables on a level playing field with conventional fossil-fuel plants.

Beginning this year, Sunrun will bundle rooftop solar energy stored in more than 300 Brightbox battery systems and deliver it to the electricity grid when called upon by O&R. By bundling and coordinating the energy stored in Sunrun’s Brightbox home battery systems, Sunrun will form a virtual power plant to partially offset demand on O&R’s electricity grid in key areas, while providing clean, reliable, locally-generated solar power to residents in Orange and Rockland counties.

Let’s encourage other utility companies to implement virtual power plants to meet power needs. National Grid, for example, should set up a VPP in New York to help serve the coming era of heat pumps, instead of looking to increase fracked gas infrastructure. Central Hudson Gas & Electric, which does not currently have any VPP projects underway, might start one.

Gov. Cuomo needs to lead on this. He must deny permits for new fossil fuel plants and infrastructure (e.g.,Danskammer, National Grid’s “Plan B”) and so direct power development into the renewable resources we need to heat, cool and power our homes. Among other initiatives supporting renewables, the governor should direct New York agencies to offer incentives for small solar projects with storage, such as carports and landfill installations. His administration should be promoting the concept of the virtual power plant throughout the Lower Hudson Valley, and statewide.