A network of around 5,000 solar- and battery-equipped homes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont could soon be funneling power back into the grid at times when it’s most needed.
The national solar installer SunRun made history this month when it bid into the region’s forward capacity auction for wholesale power and won the right to contribute 20 megawatts to the New England grid during periods of high demand.
Last week, SunRun touted its achievement and said it’s the first time home solar and battery storage has gone head-to-head with centralized power plants in a U.S. capacity market. While the “virtual power plant” concept has been described on paper and discussed at conferences, it has yet to be manifested.
Now the bundled storage must be made available to ISO New England, which runs the six-state power grid, during the 2022-23 season. If SunRun delivers, it gains tariff payments. If it fails to deliver, it faces penalties.
While the full swarm of home solar-storage systems has yet to be installed, SunRun says it is confident the company can lease its systems to enough homeowners lured by the promise of cheaper electricity and backup power during outages.
The company worked with National Grid on the Brightbox system where power from home photovoltaic panels, paired with lithium-ion batteries and “smart inverters,” can be coordinated, bundled and deployed.
In a statement, Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich extolled a “breakthrough moment” and a “win-win for everyone.”
The company said its participation in the auction signals a “transformational shift away from the traditional, more polluting centralized electricity model, with big power plants,” toward a system powered by local clean energy.
ISO New England put the concept through a strict vetting process before allowing it to bid. And although 20 megawatts is not much in the larger scheme of things, if the virtual power plant works as planned, solar developers across the country will sit up and take notice.
ISO New England conducts its forward capacity market auction every year to ensure that there are enough resources to power six states three years into the future. On Feb. 6, it procured promises totaling 43,641 megawatts at a clearing price of $3.80 per kilowatt-month.