Sense as a (Virtual) Energy Utility

The idea of a virtual power plants is not new …

Recent data from a Sense survey got me thinking …

As more solar is deployed there will be an increasing number of Sense Solar users and their solar generation will constitute a significant pool of energy. It starts to feel like this could be treated as a Virtual Power Plant (VPP).

In the ideal case, all the energy that an individual (household) generates should probably be self-consumed and should also limit consumption. At least from an energy transmission standpoint, this has the most efficiency potential because transmission losses are minimized, although this is debatable when you consider the actual embodied energy in a Utility scale plant vs Residential along with the improvements from ultra high voltage (>800kV) transmission efficiencies. Whether it is more efficient to encourage migration to EVs or migration to cities where cars are discouraged is probably a technical iteration or three in the future.

Meanwhile in the realworld, Sense reports that almost half of the total Sense-wide solar generation is sent back to the grid. Setting financial calculus aside, this begs the questions, for those users who are sending energy back to the grid:

  • Could I modify usage enough to avoid that transmission loss?

  • Am I even net zero and over what period, i.e. watt hours sent to the grid equals watts hours pulled from the grid over a certain period of time?

  • Should I install local storage (batteries)?

In this regard I think a window into Sense-wide data would be useful for solar users and, perhaps more importantly, to encourage people to deploy solar and scale it appropriately. Oh, and of course to encourage people to get (a) Sense!

Some thoughts on how that could manifest:

  • A Sense VPP, being the entire user base solar output, showing realtime generation vs load (inc. non-solar users) … just like a real power plant & grid do. As time goes by and the number of deployments increases, this could extend to a more regionalized breakdown. Knowing what your immediate neighbors are achieving has to be one of the best metrics and modifiers.

  • The local (Sense user) battery storage as part of the total VPP (battery) supply.

  • Sense user EV usage … which includes the potential for VPP V2G supply.

  • Significant factors/breakdown for particular households: location specifics; all electric hot water & climate control? heat pumps? and so on.

A note: In a VPP you can ignore transmission losses (or factor for them) and consider, in the case of a localized solar-based generation, the geographic East-West distribution in a wide region like the U.S. with its 3 hour solar peak (??) window as the sun moves across the continent … actually 2hr45min between NYC & LA … 9hrs even between Guam & Lubec, Maine!

So a Sense VPP can also be virtualized as a bunch of microgrids …

Schneider being, understandably, opportunistic: