One of the pioneers of using aggregated residential energy storage systems to create virtual power plants (VPPs), Sunverge has been active in the market since 2011 and Martin Milani became chief executive officer (CEO) in late 2017, taking over from company founder Ken Munson. The company has done projects in geographies including Canada, Australia and Japan, but is presently most-focused on its home market in the US. Here’s some of the backstory and where the company is going these days, as told to Andy Colthorpe.
The term VPP is old. It comes from energy efficiency and demand response and in energy storage the ability to connect or curtail loads. For example, reducing load by half a megawatt would be like having a half a megawatt power plant, hence the term virtual power plant.
Sunverge had a slightly different point of view. Curtailment was obviously one thing but the ability to actually use energy storage in conjunction with solar, to pump energy back into the grid to do things like volt/VAR optimisation, reactive power support, frequency response and frequency regulation. From very early on, Sunverge also saw those things which aren’t virtual at all – they’re actually very real.
The beauty of distributed storage controlled and aggregated by a multi-service platform is that there are many different ways to monetise the services at any given time on both sides of the meter.
In the US you have the concept of nodal pricing and locational marginal pricing, so electricity has a certain value, a certain price, at a certain location, at a certain time – that’s why energy storage can be extremely effective in addressing those kinds of needs as well.
I think a lot of people thought this market was going to move a lot quicker back in 2014 and 2015 than it really did. That’s been a challenge for Sunverge and a challenge for everyone else. In many ways, Sunverge has been able to weather that a little bit better than some of the others because [as well as the solar-focused market] we also focused on the vertically integrated utility and in fact we’ve had utility programmes where they are actually applying energy storage not just for Demand Side, but also to address a grid condition like distribution asset upgrade deferral to deal with feeder load situations, to deal with capacity [issues] and over-penetration of solar.