Solar energy, virtual power plant play big role in California neighborhood rehabilitation project

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Renewable energy and a smarter, decentralized grid can play a big role in rebuilding communities. This is a very cool example: MCE is embarking on a virtual power plant (VPP) program in Richmond, Calif., slated to launch in 2025, that’s also tied to a community rehabilitation project. Essentially, abandoned homes will be retrofitted with solar, smart energy tech and networked together as part of this VPP.

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The VPP program will enable MCE to shift load out of the 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. peak hours. This can significantly reduce customer bills in a community where one-fifth of residents live in poverty, double the county average. This also decreases grid strain, reducing the risk of power outages. Eventually, this VPP could be bid onto the wholesale market as well.

“The Richmond Advanced Energy Community project is a great example of community building for a clean energy future,” said David Hochschild, Chair of the California Energy Commission. “This is a first-of-its kind project that will combine clean energy technologies with tangible community benefits through integration with the California grid.”

This Advanced Energy Community project in Richmond includes $3 million in funding from the California Energy Commission and involves project developer, ZNE Alliance, and ALCO Building Solutions, Ecoshift Consulting, Energy Solutions, mPrest, Richmond Community Foundation, THG Energy Solutions, TRC, and ZGlobal.

The ZNC Homes program will finance the acquisition, complete rehabilitation, and re-sale of homes as affordable properties. These ZNC homes will be built to be energy efficient and resilient, and each home will have a full complement of smart appliances and cost-saving equipment, including rooftop solar, battery energy storage, and heat pumps. Local businesses will also have an opportunity to install batteries that provide resilience to grid outages, bill savings, and revenue generation potential.

MCE’s Virtual Power Plant will include smart, clean energy technologies including energy storage, smart thermostats, rooftop solar, heat pump space and water heating, and EV charging. The VPP will initially be connected to up to 100 Zero Net Carbon Homes (ZNC Homes) and larger commercial and industrial sites.

Similar to traditional power plants, VPPs provide electricity to the grid, but instead of coming from a single source, VPPs are made up of a network of digitally-connected technologies distributed across a community. VPPs help stabilize the power grid by quickly dispatching power to and from resources on the grid to shift energy consumption out of peak hours and take greater advantage of midday solar generation.

“37% of our residents are enrolled in the CARE discount program, which is 12% more than the state average,” said Tom Butt, MCE Board Chair and Mayor of Richmond. “MCE’s partnership with our city on the VPP and ZNC Homes will enhance equity in the community by revitalizing our housing stock and decreasing energy costs for our residents.”

Once established, MCE will use the VPP in the statewide power markets – managed by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) – to demonstrate the aggregation of customer resources by a CCA, and the integration, scheduling, and settlement of these resources in the CAISO markets. Participating residents will be paid for their role in providing localized grid services through a dynamic value-sharing agreement.

“By integrating smart, zero carbon homes into Richmond residents will be able to access housing that is affordable to purchase and to operate,” said Richard Schorske, Executive Director of the ZNE Alliance. “This element of the Advanced Energy Community builds on many years of work by the Richmond Community Foundation, the City of Richmond, and MCE, and we are very excited to see it coming to fruition.”

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