VIRTUAL ELECTRIC GENERATING PLANTS


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by Ben Daviss

When tomorrow’s electric utilities need to expand generating capacity, they won’t think about spending billions on a new central station. They’ll just ask owners of Tesla home power batteries to let them in.

National Grid, which supplies electricity in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island is trying out the idea with its ConnectSolutions program. When power demand peaks, the utility draws electricity out of Tesla Powerwall batteries enrolled in the project. The company pays Tesla for the power, Tesla takes a share of the funds, and passes the rest to the battery owner.

Powerwall owners don’t take an active part; the utility manages the battery’s charging and discharging cycles through a centrally operated control application. Tesla says that participating battery owners could earn as much as $1,000 a year if their Powerwalls are wired to a solar array and perhaps $200 if the battery is only tied to the conventional electric grid. (Installed Powerwalls cost about $7,800.) 

Just as important, the plan can help a utility skirt the need to build a new peak generating station that would likely be used only when demand is unusually high – typically less than 100 days a year.

Trendpost: With solar and other renewable energy sources promising to decentralize the electricity grid, utility companies are testing ways to ride that transition. Becoming an energy collection network as well as a distribution system is part of that shift. New centralized plants are both costly and publicly unpopular; the ability to assemble a network that encompasses renewable energies and decentralized sources, such as electric cars, will define utility companies’ future survival.

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