Dwibin Thomas, Cluster Automation Leader at Schneider Electric

The rapid growth of DERs (distributed energy resources) which include solar PV, wind turbines, and energy storage systems, has fundamentally changed the energy landscape.  However, the variability and uncertainty of DERs can pose significant challenges to utilities responsible for the distribution or transmission of energy.

The effective management of these resources requires sophisticated control systems that can balance supply and demand in real time, ensuring grid stability and reliability whilst optimising asset performance.

Enter Virtual Power Plants (VPPs), which can play an important part in establishing a grid that offers stable and reliable supply.  Aggregating and controlling DERs with a VPP offers several benefits to utilities:

  • Efficient management – DERs are difficult to control individually due to its decentralised nature. By aggregating these resources, VPPs create a single, controllable entity that can be dispatched as and when needed, based on energy demand.
  • Optimised usage – VPPs can forecast the renewable output and DER capacity of assets which assist utilities in making informed decisions about asset dispatch, considering factors such as weather patterns and market conditions.
  • Cost savings – by aggregating and managing DERs, VPPs mitigate the need for expensive upgrades to existing infrastructure whilst increasing the efficiency of energy distribution. This can result in lower energy costs for consumers and more reliable energy supply for utilities.
  • It offers performance asset management, forecast management, monitoring and alerting, market process management, asset dispatch management, analysis, and reporting functions.

Nishandra Baijnath, Systems Architect, Power Systems, Anglophone Africa at Schneider Electric

The mirror ball

VPPs can provide forecasting of DER resources such as solar or wind power. By providing accurate forecasting, VPPs enable utilities to effectively plan for the availability and variability of DER resources.

This, in turn, allows for the comparison of forecast results with previous versions and enables the tracking of changes in forecast accuracy. Forecast versioning also enables the VPP to maintain a historical record of forecast results, which can be used for analysis and reporting purposes.

VPPs can manage and compare forecasts from multiple sources, such as weather providers to provide the most accurate and reliable forecast possible. By comparing forecasts from different sources, VPPs can identify discrepancies and adjust their forecast accordingly to ensure the most accurate prediction of DER output.

VPPs in action

Schneider Electric’s AutoGrid VPP technology has been successfully implemented at a California-based utility company. This technology is used to aggregate and manage DERs, including residential hybrid inverters, solar panels, and battery storage systems. Optimisation of the generation and energy storage based on time of day and state of charge allows for optimal coordination of the DERs to balance the supply and demand of the electricity on the grid.

The VPP provides real-time monitoring and control, as well as demand response capabilities, resulting in improved grid stability and customer satisfaction.

As another example, AutoGrid VPP technology is used to manage DERs, including wind turbines and solar panels, at a large industrial park in Germany. The VPP offers energy cost savings and grid reliability improvements, as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2,000 tons.

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