Are virtual power plants the future of energy?

Renewable energy has been around in various forms for decades, but until recently generation was dependent on environmental conditions. Solar plants need the sun to produce electricity, wind farms need wind and hydroelectric solutions need consistent water supply.

The development of affordable renewable energy storage systems has changed the game, however, allowing consumers and businesses to not only generate electricity, but keep it in reserve for when conditions turn unfavourable. Now, the availability of battery storage systems is tipped to revolutionise energy markets.

Virtual power plants trialled around the world

Linking together a number of these batteries has the potential to create a reliable alternative to the traditional power grid, allowing communities to take greater control over their energy needs. Trials of virtual power plants (VPPs) have been established in a number of countries, with one of the latest in the village of Oxspring in Northern England.

According to Metering and Smart Energy International, the £250,000 project is set to examine how a network of batteries will affect residents' ability to install new solar panels, without the need to upgrade the existing electricity grid. Northern Powergrid, the energy supplier financing the programme, say the combination of solar panels and battery storage technology can potentially save consumers up to 50 per cent on their power bills.

"Batteries will play a key role in the smart energy system of the future, keeping costs down for customers whilst allowing the power network to support greater concentrations of solar power," said Andrew Spencer from Northern Powergrid.

VPPs in Australia

The need for alternative energy generation and storage solutions in Australia has also led some providers to turn their attention towards VPPs, particularly in light of the 2016 widespread blackout in South Australia. Renew Economy reports that AGL Energy is investigating large-scale battery storage solutions, empowering consumers through new technology.

When announcing the company's most recent results, AGL noted they had received a positive reception to early test phases of battery storage, including a 1,000-unit system linked to Adelaide in the near future.

"It shows the capability of making end users part of the solution," said CEO Andrew Vesey.

AGL has already signed 175 households up to its VPP trial, with a target of 1,000 installations set to be completed by mid-2018.