California’s plan to let solar panels Voltron together into a “virtual power plant”
…..On every building, there’s an energy meter that tracks how much electricity the building is using. For the last century, utilities neither knew nor particularly cared what went on “behind the meter,” which generally consisted of dumb, energy-consuming appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners. All they cared about is the building’s net consumption, for purposes of forecasting and billing, and that’s what the meter told them.
Lately, though, there’s been all sorts of innovation happening behind the meter. For one thing, customers can now generate power in or on their homes — that’s what solar panels do. There are also more and more options for storing energy temporarily, including home batteries and plug-in electric vehicles. On top of that, there’s a lot of work being done in intelligent energy management, with Nest thermometers and all the rest.
Collectively, these behind-the-meter technologies are known as distributed energy resources, or DERs.
Here’s the thing: If they could be harnessed and managed in a reasonable way, these DERs could, collectively, provide all sorts of value to the grid. That includes the value of the power generated by solar panels, of course, but it could also include other grid services like capacity, reserves, frequency regulation, and demand response.