Virtual Power Plants Become Hot Building Amenity

Experts predict battery and solar systems to grow more popular in the residential and commercial sectors due to recent technological advances and lower costs.

© Andy Dean – AdobeStock

Housing and clean energy experts predict battery and solar systems will grow more popular in the residential and commercial sectors due to recent advances and lower costs for the technology.

For example, the Soleil Lofts, an apartment development in suburban Salt Lake City, tout that the 600-unit apartment complex can be powered by a new ecoLinx battery, which is charged via rooftop solar panels. The complex offers a virtual power plant that can provide 12.6 megawatts of backup power to the building.

The recent power grid difficulties in Texas from a winter storm and last year’s rolling blackouts in California to manage wildfire risk have brought the issue to the forefront.

“In the ‘80s, people installed solar because they cared about doing the right thing,” CR Herro, vice president of innovation for Meritage Homes, a national homebuilder, told The New York Times. “Now, solar and battery systems like the one at Soleil are like putting an ATM in your kitchen that spits out $20 every month.”

Virtual power plants could prove an investment for building owners too. “The VPP provides an income stream and makes this a more attractive property to rent,” Ryan Peterson, president of Wasatch Guaranty Capital, the company’s real estate and investment unit, told The New York Times. “One of the reasons we’re looking at renewables and solar is that it reduces operating expenses and increases cash flow, a big deal to real estate owners.”

Battery energy storage is significantly growing. The U.S. added 476 megawatts of storage in the third quarter, marking a 240% jump from the prior quarter, according to the U.S. Energy Storage Monitor.

“We are a turning point,” Mark Dyson, a clean energy expert at RMI, an organization that focuses on sustainability in Colorado, told The New York Times. “Since price points have come down so much, especially for batteries, I’d expect a growing fraction of new homes will incorporate these technologies. Virtual power plants are the cheapest, most valuable thing to build next for the U.S. power system.”

Source: “The Hottest Building Amenity From Developers? A Virtual Power Plant Made of Batteries,” The New York Times (March 3, 2021)