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Utility Portland General Electric launches 4MW virtual power plant pilot in Oregon

The pilot is being combined with the utility’s Smart Grid Test Bed initiative where three neighbourhoods can compete to see who can reduce their peak demand and therefore carbon intensity of their energy mix. Image: PGE via Facebook.

More than 500 residential energy storage batteries will be aggregated into a virtual power plant (VPP) by US utility Portland General Electric (PGE), with some participating households offered US$5,000 rebates on battery system purchases as well as money off their monthly electricity bills.

A PGE representative told yesterday that the programme will launch this fall, with 525 home batteries to be managed and dispatched by the utility to “optimise the use of renewable energy and our grid capabilities”.

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The representative added that the project is “important as we move toward cleaner energy and a smart, integrated grid”. PGE will be studying the benefits for the grid of the batteries as distributed energy assets. Each individual system will be 12kWh to 16kWh capacity, orchestrated together to form up to 4MW of dispatchable resources for the utility. Customers who have the batteries installed can also use them as backup devices in the event of a power outage.

Residential customers who already have a battery or are thinking of getting one can enrol and in exchange for letting PGE use their battery for grid services, they get a monthly US$40 rebate on their bills, or a US$20 rebate if the battery is solar-charged.

The utility has created a Smart Grid Test Bed, which spans three neighbourhoods in its service area. Those neighbourhoods will participate in so-called Peak Time Rebates, shifting their energy use away from peak times, reducing the amount of fossil fuel plants that need to step in to meet energy demand and increasing the use of renewable energy.

While the pilot VPP programme is open to PGE service area customers who can get the monthly bill rebate, those living in the three Smart Grid Test Bed neighbourhoods of North Portland, Milwaukie and Hillboro can also get money back of battery system purchases.

PGE said energy storage is vital to capture and store energy from variable renewable energy, but also when aggregated into a VPP could also be used to balance energy production with demand at grid level. The utility will also be able to test what it called new smart-grid control devices to allow bi-directional power exchange between PGE and programme participants, helping integrate solar while managing demand from resources like electric vehicles, which may be less predictable than home energy usage patterns.

While virtual power plants are gradually gaining traction with the US solar and energy storage industries, many industry commentators and experts have noted that customer acquisition can be the biggest barrier and often one of the most expensive aspects of putting VPP projects together, with buy-in from utility companies increasingly considered useful if not essential for gaining customer interest, trust and enrolment.  

The pilot programme will also be integrated with an existing solar installation programme, Solar Within Reach, which gives incentives for income-qualified households to go solar, offering a US$5,000 rebate off the cost of home battery storage for those customers too.

“Our vision for clean energy relies on a smart, integrated grid. One of the ways that we'll achieve that is through creative partnerships and diversified energy resources, including those behind-the-meter. This pilot project will allow PGE to integrate even more intermittent renewable energy and enhance grid capabilities while also giving participating customers peace of mind in the event of an outage,” PGE vice president of Grid Architecture, Integration and Systems Operations said in a press statement.

Oregon is one of seven US states to have put in place energy storage procurement targets. Each Oregon utility is mandated to install energy storage equivalent to 1% of peak load or a minimum of 10MWh by the end of this year.

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