Vrtual Power Plants

Hi all, I am looking for somebody to explain this news from China to me.


“China’s first virtual power plant was put into operation on Dec.11 in north China’s Hebei province. Supported by the Internet of Things (IoT), the power plant is expected to achieve massive storage of electricity and strike a balance between power generation, supply and consumption, Science and Technology Daily reported on Dec.13.”

How does it work?


I had to google to figure out what they were talking about. This site explains it a lot better:

From here: https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/07/business/statkraft-virtual-power-plant/index.html

So basically they are pooling and coordinating resources across different systems and even across different countries to handle fluctuations caused by inconsistent power sources like solar and wind. By doing this, they don’t need to run a fossil power plant to pick up the slack. So they are creating a “virtual” power plant equivalent to what the fossil fuel plant’s output would have to be to keep the power across the grid constant.

Calling it a “virtual” power plant is, in my opinion, misleading and confusing.

Thanks, that was fast indeed, I thought first that they found the secret
of the universe…

Tesla is also operating what they call a virtual power plant.

In their case, the source energy comes from solar and battery installations at individual houses. They can deploy these resources to make up for grid shortfalls, such as a coal plant going offline.

So, all they mean is that they’re linking power plants together in a grid? How is this the first? Everyone’s been doing that for as long as power plants have existed.

Seems like “distributed” would be a better word choice.

What’s new is that they are coming up with better linking between grids and more efficient methods of identifying where power is needed quickly and transferring that power to where it is needed. It requires some fancy coordination between power systems over long distances.

Once you get past the hype and confusing news articles, it’s actually a good idea.

No, they’re linking small consumer devices of only a few kilowatts each (batteries, water heaters, electric resistance heaters) into an aggregate single controlled entity of many megawatts.

Or, they link together individual hundred-kilowatt-size demand response projects (buildings, small factories or warehouses, shopping malls) together.

This has only been possible since less than 10 years ago.

Oh, so they’re managing demand as well as supply? Yeah, that’s new.

Grid-connected power stations have traditionally had a bunch little-discussed requirements about how fast they can power up and power down and how they react to sudden loads and sudden unloads, including what the shape of the response curve is.

Having a high proportion of directly-connected Wind and Solar makes the grid unstable: to stabilize the grid you need to have the same kind of behaviour as you had with old power stations. Part of that is adding batteries, part of it is learning and developing new control and co-ordination technology.

Peking is adjacent to and suffers from pollution from Hebei, and Hebei region itself has got some of the most polluted cities in China. They are building more coal-fired power plants to get people off coal heating onto electric heating (coal power plants are less polluting than coal heating) , and they are building more wind farms to reduce the need for coal power plants, and they are building new energy storage and control centres to stop the whole thing falling over when something goes wrong.

Just making new virtual power stations ‘as good as old ones’ is by no means the aim. A new power station should be better than any old one, and the technology is developing rapidly.

I don’t see a problem with calling these virtual power plants. “Virtual X” has always meant “definitely not an X, but sometimes can behave as if it were one.” Virtual reality, virtual particles, virtual machines, virtual memory, etc.

If controllable supply and demand can be spun up at least as quickly as a real power plant, and has similar capacity, then it can be treated in many respects as if it were a real power plant. If it can make up for the shortfall from a coal plant going offline suddenly, then it’s definitely behaving as a power plant, even if the “generation” might be a combination of batteries or load being taken offline. “Virtual” sounds like just the right word, in fact.

Does this imply that they are, say, remotely turning down people’s water heaters when a transmission line goes down somewhere, in order to balance the demand end of things as well as balance the supply end? Or rolling blackouts of entire areas to achieve the same effect?

I know that a major manufacturing plant near here has a flex agreement with the local utility so that the utility can ramp the plant’s power down if the need arises (the plant has its own backup generators), with the overall intention that homes and essential services don’t get their power interrupted in a brownout.

I’m curious as to just how granular a system like that can get. In the next five years, will I load my washing machine and have it enter a ticket at the power substation, such that the machine will be activated at 2 AM when demand hits a threshhold?

No reason you couldn’t do that. You’ll probably also have a car that plugs in for 16 hours every night, but only needs 8 of those hours, and you’ll just tell it “be ready to go by 7 AM, and use the cheapest electricity you can”.

Probably not presently granular at the household level, because I don’t know of any well-known household protocols for doing that. There are standards for implementing control of household solar panels, which will be having an effect in the next 5 years, and water heaters are certainly something people think about controlling.

At present, remote control of generation means control of wind farms and solar farms and hydro plants. Remote control of commercial loads is mostly done by price signals and contracts: you turn off the load when the price is high, or when the grid controller asks you to. The size of the business where this makes sense is getting smaller every year: and the business may be able to do ‘load shedding’ by switching to batteries and back up generators.

Price bidding for residential loads like washing is contentious because it’s providing a service that discriminates based on how much you are able to pay: prices can rise because poor people can avoid peak costs by turning off their heating in a cold snap and their air conditioning on hot days, which is a worst case scenario will kill them. Remote control of loads is contentious because you may not want to have your load turned off just then.

Another thing they can do is start charging homes for peak loading, as they have long done for heavy commercial users. If you go on a tariff like that, you can personally control your hot water to come on only when the air-conditioning goes off.