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Credit: Tesla

Solar Power Plants

Tesla Expanding Into Solar Microgrids And Virtual Power Plants

Just as it is leading the EV revolution, Tesla is also a leader in creating microgrids and virtual power plants both large and small in the US and around the world.

Elon Musk says he expects Tesla’s energy business will one day be equal to or exceed its automotive business. That day may be some time in the future but the company is clearly expanding its solar and battery operations rapidly, both for grid scale and residential applications.

Tesla Energy

Courtesy of Tesla

Last week, Michael Snyder, Tesla’s director of engineering and construction for energy projects posted on Linked In, “If you like solving problems at the nexus of power systems interactions, protection coordination, system and product level controls, and DERs (Powerpacks, Megapacks, solar, and generators), check out the link below for a microgrid-focused product engineer. We have 120+ operational microgrids around the world with high impact to a variety of communities/customers. This is a unique and rewarding role.” That post was followed by a link to apply for a position with Tesla Energy.

According to E&E News, a microgrid is a cluster of energy generators — whether diesel or solar or wind powered — that serves nearby users such as a building or a campus. That cluster “islands” and keeps the lights on even if the regular grid around it blacks out, something that is happening more frequently because of severe storms, wildfires and floods associated with a warming climate. “If you look at the performance of the U.S. grid, it just gets worse and worse and worse,” says Peter Asmus, who studies microgrids as a research director at Guidehouse Insights.

Microgrids “do not always need to be considered bespoke engineering endeavors,” Snyder wrote. “The vast majority can be simplified and systematized into plug-and-play power systems.” He said Tesla microgrids are like its vehicles — modular and capable of over the air monitoring and updates. The same features included in a large solar microgrid in Australia are found in backup power plants for hospitals in Puerto Rico and isolated grids in rural Africa. “The variety and flexibility in application is staggering,” he said, then added that 1,000 Tesla microgrids are possible “in the not so distant future.” Wood Mackenzie says the United States installed 546 microgrids last year.

In September, microgrids in the US got a boost when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued Order No. 2222, which allows energy from distributed resources like solar arrays and batteries to be sold into wholesale regional energy markets. “You definitely have an increase in momentum from all sides,” Asmus says.

Besides Tesla, utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Ameren, and Duke Energy, battery suppliers like LG Chem, and companies like Schneider Electric and Siemens that make battery controls are all showing interest in microgrids. Then there are companies that make battery control software like Stem Inc. and Growing Energy Labs; global conglomerates with power divisions like Caterpillar Inc. and Trane, and microgrid builders like Advanced Microgrid Solutions and Scale Microgrid Solutions all looking for a piece of the action.

Peter Asmus is even thinking of adding a microgrid at his home in California. “I’d say Tesla never in the past wanted to talk to people like me,” he says. “They seem to have shifted a little as of late.”

Tesla Virtual Power Plant Plan In The UK

Asmus may be right. Tesla has teamed up with Octopus Energy in the UK to offer home owners the ability to take part in a virtual power plant program. There are a few prerequisites, however. The home owner must already own a Tesla electric car and home charger. Then a rooftop solar system and a Tesla Powerwall needs to be added to the home. According to Bloomberg News, Tesla claims its offer represents a 75% savings compared to its competitors.

The program means homes can generate, store, and return solar energy to the grid during peak times. Imports and exports of electricity will be determined by software and will happen automatically based on energy use patterns, solar generation forecast, and wholesale energy prices. While there are other V2G systems available to UK residents, Bloomberg says this is the first to incorporate a household storage battery and solar panels.

The renewable energy revolution is in full swing. It will involve decentralized power generation as well as enhanced long distance transmission lines. Nothing is off the table. Tesla is creating an enormous virtual power plant in Australia that will incorporate rooftop solar and battery storage at 50,000 homes. Green Mountain Power is conducting a similar program in Vermont.

Just as one day soon electric vehicle sales will surpass sales of conventional vehicles, our grandkids will likely grow up in homes that have residential storage batteries in the garage or in the basement next to the electrical panel. Tesla is leading the way in electric cars and will soon be a leader in clean energy as well.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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