Clean Peak Energy News

Decarbonizing the Grid through Virtual Power Plants

Recurve CEO Matt Golden discusses new ways building operators can offset energy shortfalls through energy demand flexibility – and get paid for doing it.

SOMONA COUNTY, CA — While the development of electric vehicles continues to garner public attention as a means of weaning the world off of its reliance on fossil fuels, it probably would come as a surprise to many that as much as 40% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States are caused by the generation of electricity to power homes, commercial buildings and, yes, charging the batteries on all those electric cars. This, along with California’s expected energy shortfall this summer, is increasing the value of energy demand flexibility.

According to Matt Golden, founder and chief executive officer of Recurve, whose software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform is being implemented around the world to enable energy demand flexibility as a resource, the only way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is through continued electrification of the systems in our homes and offices. Besides powering more of the cars in our driveways, electricity is expected to increase its role in our homes through the replacement of furnaces, water heaters and gas stoves with heat pumps and induction ranges, among other changes.
Such transitions will ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enabling states like California move toward its aggressive goal of zero GHG emissions by 2040. But with the effort to reduce fossil fuel reliance comes increased strain on the nation’s electric grid. And defeating the goal is the fact that a substantial portion of the nation’s electricity is still generated by natural gas – a fossil fuel.
Further challenging GHG-reduction goals is one irrefutable fact about solar power.

“The problem is the sun – it sets every day,” quipped Golden during his TEDx Talk on the subject recently. “It’s very inconvenient, because it also sets at the wrong time. In California, between 4pm and 9pm in the summer is the peak – when we need the most energy. And 7pm to 9pm – those are the really bad hours.”

The challenge then becomes balancing supply and demand – flattening the demand curve through energy storage. In California, there is an excess of energy produced during the daytime hours that is forced out of state at a cost, while during peak demand hours, the shortfall of energy is being met using methods that contribute to GHG emissions. According to a recent pv Magazine report,

California will need “as much [battery] storage as it can get its hand on,” stating analysts suggest the state needs 37GW of batteries over the next 20 years – a need that may be hampered by residual and ongoing COVID-19 supply chain disruptions worldwide.

No Silver Bullet

While he admits there is no single silver bullet, Golden says one means of moving toward a solution is through demand flexibility, “which is aligning how you use energy and when you use energy with when it’s in good supply, when it’s low-cost and when it’s clean.”

Demand flexibility comes in many forms, among them is thermal energy storage within the building’s physical mass. Clean Peak Energy Group, which uses its patented method of maximizing thermal energy storage in buildings, and through interfacing with a building’s “thermostat” or system, can shift demand away from peak hours to off-peak hours, taking advantage of low-cost energy generated though clean sources.

Meanwhile Golden’s firm, Recurve, is behind an effort to aggregate the data generated by building meters to better forecast demand and consider efforts by building operators and energy consumers to shift demand – a quantifiable reduction he refers to as a “virtual power plant.”

Using this data, Recurve is building a market for the benefits of these virtual power plants, enabling utilities and Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs) to purchase Flexibility Purchase Agreements, which can be used to fund innovation and technologies that further the proliferation of virtual power plants.

“It’s encouraging behind-the-meter innovation in our communities and make all of our buildings a participant in decarbonization,” Golden said.

The concept looks to be needed, with California expected to experience a shortfall of up to 4.4GW of electricity during peak demand this summer. “That’s the equivalent of 2 nuclear power plants,” Golden said. “California isn’t going to have enough electricity to keep the lights on this summer.”

Working with state regulators, utilities and other firms in the energy space in California, the state has funded $150 million in support to encouraging participation in and innovation behind development of virtual power plants.

“In your buildings, your offices, your homes, you will have opportunities to make investments that benefit you in the form of comfort and reliability and to lower your bills, but also to help decarbonize the grid,” Golden said. “And you will be part of the virtual power plant – and get paid for that.”

For more information on how Clean Peak Energy’s thermal mass energy storage technology can enable your building to participate in a virtual power plant, schedule a quick 30-minute call with one our experts by clicking here.


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