When the demand for electricity surges in Oakland, California, a power plant burning jet fuel switches on, pumping pollution into the western part of the city. But the plant will soon close—and will be replaced in part by a network of solar panels and batteries installed in affordable apartment buildings in the area. It’s all part of a new “virtual” power plant that is set to clean up the energy grid in Oakland.
At the jet fuel plant, the plant’s owner will install another massive battery system that can take electricity from the grid when demand is low and then release it when it’s needed. Other battery storage systems in the area will also help. But the installation at apartment buildings is a unique way to solve the problem. The power will go first to the low-income families living in the buildings, then fill the batteries, with any excess electricity going back into the general grid. This way, the local fossil fuel plant can be replaced without building new power lines and can help serve low-income families who typically don’t have direct access to clean energy infrastructure.
The system is slated to be ready in 2022. Sunrun, the company behind the virtual power plant, expects more virtual power plants to sprout up in California and the rest of the country.