Power once derived from a dirty power plant in Oakland, California will soon be partially replaced by a virtual power plant (VPP) – a bundle of more than 500 residential solar-plus-battery storage systems installed on low-income homes.

Local electricity company East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) has hired San Francisco-based solar giant Sunrun to install several MWs of solar and more than two MWh of batteries on 500 low-income housing units in the area before 2022. The plan is to deliver 500KWs of grid reliability capacity over 10 years.

The project is necessary to replace the roughly 40-year old Oakland Power Plant, which burns jet fuel for electricity during peak demand and contributes to poor air quality in some of the most polluted parts of the Bay Area.

Nick Chaset, EBCE’s chief executive officer said the project “sets a precedent for how distributed energy resources, such as solar and storage, can offer financial and environmental benefits within our community.”

Chaset went further on Twitter and said that he was: “super duper excited about our Sunrun virtual power plant deal. Aggregating solar + storage on low income customer rooftops to reduce our need to buy from peakers. YES PLEASE”.

Lynn Jurich, Sunrun co-founder and CEO, said the company “is built on the foundation that solar energy should be accessible to everyone, particularly those communities most impacted by pollution and which today lack access to clean energy. Shifting from an aging, dirty fossil fuel power plant to energy provided by home solar and batteries will ensure that West Oakland residents are at the centre of the clean energy transition.”

The contract will allow Sunrun to work towards its goal of developing a minimum of 100MW of solar on affordable housing in areas where more than three quarters of tenants fall below 60% of the median income. In a late 2017 quote, Jurich had said that grid services using solar and batteries “could [soon] be extremely valuable in certain targeted way”, while the company more recently joined another virtual power plant undertaking in New England, where capacity contracts were awarded this February for Sunrun’s solar-plus-storage systems in ordinary households to provide 20MW of energy capacity.

There has been increasing interest, and now development, in using solar and energy storage for the replacement of combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) to provide peaking power on the US grid, a phenomenon we looked at in depth in the recent feature article ‘Peak time to take action’, first published in our journal, PV Tech Power. Peaker plants may actually only run for a small fraction of their operating lifetime, but are at their most polluting during their ramp up period. 

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