Ford, General Motors, Google Nest, and several energy companies are partnering to support the growth of "virtual power plants" (VPPs) — or networks of decentralized power sources designed to kick in when the grid falls short. RMI, a nonprofit seeking to decarbonize the energy system, is spearheading the effort. 

“Virtual power plants are poised for explosive growth, and RMI is committed to being at the forefront of their success by launching VP3,” said RMI CEO Jon Creyts in a press release. “Our analysis shows that VPPs can reduce peak power demand and improve grid resilience in a world of increasingly extreme climate events." 

How does this work? Virtual power plants pool together both energy producers and consumers under a single entity, from wind and solar farms to home heaters that use smart thermostats. The idea is that these networks can coordinate to both provide and conserve energy as needed, depending on demand on the grid. This could entail using advanced software to prompt members to reduce their consumption. 

On the supply side, producers in a VPP are able to better "monitor, forecast, optimize and trade their power," explains Next, one of Europe's largest VPP operators. "This way, fluctuations in the generation of renewables can be balanced by ramping up and down power generation and power consumption of controllable units." 

So if a wind farm is overproducing, and a solar park is under producing, they can coordinate their output to provide a balanced load. It also allows them to potentially trade together on the same market, putting them in competition with large central power plants. It could also provide additional power options for large industrial consumers, such as automakers. 

“Virtual power plants present an exciting opportunity to unlock additional value for homes, businesses and communities, helping to drive greater energy independence and grid decarbonization,” said Mark Bole, vice president and head of GM's V2X and Battery Solutions. “This collaboration underscores GM’s commitment to creating a more resilient grid, with EVs and virtual power plants playing a key role in helping to advance our all-electric future.”

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