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New York’s REV programme sires biggest US ‘virtual power plant’

NY REV seeks a market redesign for energy as well as technological modernisation. Image: Flickr / Dan Nguyen.
A programme to modernise New York’s energy system will lead to the state’s biggest ‘virtual power plant’, with PV system owners invited to join a pilot of aggregated solar-plus-storage systems.

Utility Con Edison, integrated PV manufacturer SunPower and storage system maker Sunverge will integrate 1.8MW of rooftop PV with 1.8MW / 4MWh of battery storage at 300 privately-owned homes. SunPower said the project, dubbed the Clean Virtual Power Plant, is being launched as a direct consequence of Reforming the Energy Vision (NY REV), New York’s grid modernisation efforts being led by state governor Andrew Cuomo.

In addition to SunPower PV systems which will be leased to Con Edison customers who apply to be part of the trial, for a monthly fee participants can have Con Edison-owned Sunverge storage systems linked to the panels to provide backup power in the event of outages.

The utility will be able to use the systems, connected and aggregated together, to behave as a local generation source to make up for shortfalls in capacity on the network when it experiences peak demand. The installation is one of several demonstrations intended to kickstart the NY REV programme’s latest steps forward and was first announced in July of last year. Con Edison will integrate supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) to provide remote monitoring and control, so that the project’s systems could reduce the utility’s reliance on conventional power generation sources.

As well as this, other NY REV demonstration projects from a list of 12 in total include improving clean energy access for low and middle-income consumers and moves to open up clean energy markets for small commercial organisations.

Evolution versus revolution - utilities to become distributed resource coordinators

As covered in Evolution or Revolution, a feature on NY REV for Solar Media’s PV Tech Power journal, overhauling the state’s energy networks to bring it in line with expectations on reliability and security was expected to cost around US$30 billion over ten years using existing technologies and market design.

The overarching programme sets out to make sure that these necessary costs are invested into the network, with perhaps the most significant move being to redefine the role of big utilities to include coordinating growing amounts of distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar. Instead of being paid for generation, utilities will be paid to manage these DERs as distributed system platform providers (DSPPs).

In an Energy-Storage.News article on NY REV last July, William Acker of the NY Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium (NY BEST) technology and market development group said NY REV could be an example to many other regions of the world, although the specific circumstances and drivers for change might be different.

Meeting the challenge of energy's 'disruptive shift'

Sunverge and SunPower inked a deal to collaborate back in late 2014, targeting regions including Australia and the US. SunPower CEO Tom Werner said at the time that the deal was one way for his company to establish a foothold in the space for aggregating and combining the benefits of not just solar and storage but other resources as well.

“Over the next five years, we expect to see a disruptive shift in the energy market, with solar power, energy storage, smart devices, energy management technologies and electric vehicles being combined,” Werner said.

In a previous interview with Energy-Storage.News, Werner had also said that he did not see total independence from the grid as a logical goal for a mainstream solar industry, but instead agreed with the likes of SolarCity’s CTO Peter Rive that solar companies, utilities and transmission and distribution operators would have to work ever-more closely together.

“I think that there’s a business model evolution for utilities but they will always have an important role with the grid. I think that we’ll see less centralised power generation and less of the ‘hub and spoke’ model of utilities and a smarter grid that can do both hub and spoke and distributed generation and that’s always been SunPower’s position,” Werner said.

“We agree that utilities will always have an important role and in fact what’ll happen is it’ll emphasise a more intelligent grid and less emphasis on generation.”

Sunverge’s storage systems meanwhile have been picked up for other virtual power plant trials in a number of other territories. One such region is Australia, where the biggest utility in the country, AGL, has invested around US$20 million in the manufacturer.

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