If You Build a VPP, They Will Come: Making VPPs Available and Beneficial to All

The Department of Energy’s Virtual Power Plant Commercial Liftoff report released in September 2023 makes a strong call for expanding the deployment of Virtual Power Plants (VPPs), simplifying enrollment, and accelerating VPP integration into markets. We are already seeing unprecedented growth in distributed energy resources (DERs) across households, which dramatically increases the potential capacity that VPPs can aggregate. There is considerable value that flexible demand resources can contribute, yet how can we ensure that the benefits are available to everyone?

In July of this year, Sense announced an expansion of our partnership with OhmConnect, incorporating our real-time energy experience and device-level data into their platform. This integration created a VPP, enabling customers to earn rewards for reducing their home electricity use when the grid is stressed. By seamlessly merging the strengths of each technology, consumers have a unified, approachable experience that empowers them to take control of their energy use and get rewarded for it.

What is a VPP and How Does it Work?

A virtual power plant, or VPP, harnesses the power of various distributed energy resources, integrates them into a unified network, and optimizes their operation to provide reliable services to both grid operators and energy consumers.

A distributed energy resource (DER) refers to a resource located on the distribution system or behind a customer meter that can provide electricity demand flexibility. These can include electric vehicles, smart thermostats, demand response, water heaters, battery storage, or rooftop solar.

One of the VPP super powers is the amount of different kinds of energy sources it can bring together to work on the grid in harmony. Energy resources like solar, battery storage and demand response can blend seamlessly onto the grid when they come through VPPs.

Think of it this way: each individual DER is a piece of fruit. When you take an assortment of pieces of fruit and add them all together, you have a tasty, balanced fruit salad.

The Role of Smart Meters in VPPs

Smart meters can be used to measure and communicate the performance of individual sites participating in a Virtual Power Plant (VPP). Interval meter data from advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is used in many VPPs as the basis for rewarding participants.

Yet current utility AMI interval data is often missing or lags, and the process of getting it in the first place can be cumbersome. Sometimes data readings don’t show up in meter interval data databases until weeks later. This is a real challenge not just for the VPP administrators, but for participants who rely on that feedback to see their rewards and stay participating.

That is changing with the roll-out of AMI 2.0 and the edge-intelligence Sense-enabled meters can deliver. VPP administrators and VPP participants can get data faster and more reliably, relieving customer frustration and rewarding them faster and more reliably. And with the right partnership, we can add even more value.

The Power of Real Time

In keeping with the fruit salad analogy, it’s best when it’s fresh, and the same is true for data. The energy experience available to Sense users is highly engaging and prompts them to make decisions in real-time. They can also see the impact immediately after, which reinforces good behavior (you ate an apple instead of a candy bar, good job!).

In collaboration with utilities and third-party aggregators like OhmConnect, Sense provides a new generation of real-time consumer engagement, as well as a pathway to seamless VPP enrollment and automation of smart devices.

The Sense mobile app shows what is using power in the home, down to specific equipment and appliances, making it simple for consumers to identify and cut energy usage. The immediate feedback generates trust and high levels of engagement. In fact, nearly 60% of Sense users remain long-term active users. Approximately half of those users open the app on any given week with an average of 6.5 app sessions per week.

Putting it All Together for Results for Customers

The expansion of our partnership with aggregators has already shown some very promising results. In the VPP this summer, both automated device and behavioral savings were higher for Sense real-time users than for average OhmConnect participants. The device savings were 128% higher and behavioral savings were 257% higher, which means more rewards for our customers and more benefits to the grid.

Sense users were eager to have access to their energy insights and be rewarded for saving energy in the VPP. When introduced to OhmConnect, Sense users joined the VPP at a rate of 125% greater than OhmConnect’s average rate.

In total, this partnership saved about 5000 kWh of peak demand this summer, a number that is sure to grow very quickly, particularly in New York, where Sense will be made available to over 1 million residential customers through new AMI electric meters now being deployed by their utility.

To accelerate the deployment of VPPs, we need customers to adopt DERs, choose to participate in VPPs, and then not override or leave the programs due to dissatisfaction. And we need to make the benefits of VPPs available to everyone. When it comes to VPPs, if you build it right, they will come.

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