Forget Godzilla, NYC Gets Monster-Sized “Virtual” Solar Power Plant

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The New York City utility Con Edison has hooked up with leading rooftop solar provider SunPower in a massive virtual solar power plant experiment. The ambitious plan seeks to recruit hundreds of home owners to link together in a combined rooftop solar and energy storage system that will connect more than 1.8 megawatts of solar power with 4 megawatt-hours of storage.

Synchronizing 300 different rooftops across a sprawling city of millions is not exactly a cakewalk. If it all works out, New York City — and the New York State power grid — could provide the model for practically every other metropolis to follow.

As the saying goes, it’s up to you, New York, New York.

NYC clean power virtual solar power plant

A Godzilla-Sized Virtual Solar Power Plant For NYC

The new virtual solar power plant will recruit at least 300 home owners under a power purchase type lease agreement with SunPower to install rooftop solar panels.

As an option, home owners can also have Con Edison install the energy storage component. The batteries will be provided by Sunverge Energy.  Here’s an example of the company’s sleek design approach:

solar energy storage

So, how come Con Edison didn’t go for the Tesla Powerwall? We have no idea, but it could have something to do with Sunverge’s integrated approach to energy storage, which appears to be tailor made for the virtual power plant of tomorrow:

The Sunverge Solar Integration System (SIS) is an intelligent distributed energy storage system that captures solar power and delivers it when needed most. It combines batteries, power electronics, and multiple energy inputs in a UL-certified appliance controlled by software running in the cloud. The SIS is a utility-grade product designed for the consumer market.

To sweeten the pot, the energy storage system is both grid-integrated and home integrated. In case of a widespread power outage, the home owner can draw electricity from their own battery. Apparently it’s not enough juice to power an entire McMansion, but it will enable home owners to operate certain “essential” appliances.

What Is This Virtual Power Plant Of Which You Speak?

For those of you new to the topic, the virtual power plant concept is based on the idea that today’s software-based utility operations have advanced to the point where we don’t have to rely exclusively on large scale central power plants any more.

Instead, we can synchronize hundreds of energy storage and miniature power plants — in this case, rooftop solar panels — scattered over a wide area.

The idea behind the Con Edison venture is to create a virtual solar power plant with the specific aim of not having to build an extra “peaker” plant to supply extra power to the grid during peak use periods:

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) integration will provide remote monitoring and control, allowing Con Edison to forecast and optimize the performance and reduce the need for the utility to rely on traditional non-renewable power sources to meet peak demand.

So, What Does This All Have To Do With Fracking?

By “traditional non-renewable power sources,” Con Edison is probably referring to natural gas, which seems to be the fuel of choice for peaker plants these days.

Replacing gas peaker plants with solar energy is good news for opponents of fracking, the natural gas and oil drilling method that has been linked to serious public health impacts and earthquakes, among other side effects.

Fracking operations skyrocketed under the Obama Administration as part of the President’s “all of the above” domestic energy policy, with a significant assist by an enforcement loophole created during the Bush Administration.

That loophole is going to be difficult to close even if presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton wins the White House this fall, unless voters decide that they would also like to have more Democrats over at Capitol Hill.

If that happens, be prepared for a sea change in US energy production. Secretary of State Clinton supported the energy policies of her immediate supervisor (that would be the President), but after leaving the Administration in 2014, her policy focus quickly transitioned to renewable energy.

During a speech at the National Clean Energy Summit in 2014, Clinton stated that she favors tighter federal regulations on fracking with this result:

By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.

It’s also worth noting that Clinton’s home state of New York is among the few to institute a state-wide ban on the practice.

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Images: top via Con Edison, bottom via SunVerge.



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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3146 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

3 thoughts on “Forget Godzilla, NYC Gets Monster-Sized “Virtual” Solar Power Plant

  • If ConEd really wanted to reduce demand for fracked gas, they would work to reduce the amount of gas that is used for heating. Instead, they are currently proposing to expand their residential gas networks in NYC and Westchester County. If ConEd were instead to support geothermal heat pumps, they could not only reduce summer peak demand but also reduce the number of gas furnaces and boilers in their service area. The result would be lower emissions (even if gas were used to produce electricity) and a reduction in electricity rates (because of lower capital costs and increased kWh sales over the year.) Expanded use of geothermal heat pumps would cause both electric rates and emissions to go DOWN.

    The Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management Project (BQDM) is a good example of non-optimal thinking on ConEd’s part. In that project, they will be paying $150 million to purchase 40 MW of reduced summer peak demand (via batteries, efficiency, demand response agreements, etc.) That means they will pay $3.75 per watt of reduced peak demand. Ratepayers will have surcharges on their bills for the next 10 years to pay off the cost of this program. Well, installing geothermal heat pumps in a home in the BQDM area should permanently reduce that home’s peak demand by about 2kW. That should be worth $7,500 per home. The full 40MW reduction could be achieved by converting 20,000 homes to GHP. The really interesting thing is that since these homes would increase their off-peak power usage during the winter, the utility would make up the initial $7,500 retrofit cost from increased sales. A surcharge on ratepayers bills would not be needed.

    ConEd may say that they are working to reduce demand for fracked gas, but, in fact they are working to increase the scope of their gas distribution networks and they are not supporting technologies that could eliminate residential and commercial use of gas in the city.

    • Remember, ConEd didn’t want to do this. They wanted to build a giant new gas turbine. NY Public Service Commission *rejected* that proposal and told them to come back with a renewable-energy proposal. That’s what the BQDM is — it’s ConEd’s response to being pushed by the Public Service Commission.

      We have a good Public Service Commission. ConEd kind of sucks.

      • Only “kind of”?

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