Enbala, the Denver, Colo.-based startup with software that runs virtual power plants across North America, has landed a contract to manage the world’s biggest aggregation of household solar and behind-the-meter batteries with Australian utility AGL.
On Monday, Enbala announced it will provide the “cloud-based control and optimization platform” for AGL’s virtual power plant project in South Australia. In terms of its goals, it’s the world’s biggest single VPP, aimed at managing up to 5 megawatts and 12 megawatt-hours of flexibility from up to 1,000 residential behind-the-meter energy storage systems.
AGL’s virtual power plant project, launched with great fanfare in 2016, got off to a rocky start in its first year. Far fewer customers than expected signed up, and undisclosed challenges with the technology provided by initial partner Sunverge caused a halt in installations. After putting the project on hold in August 2017, AGL went on a search for new partners, and in March announced that it was now providing two new battery systems, Tesla’s Powerwall and a combination of LG Chem batteries and SolarEdge inverters, to replace the Sunverge systems.
AGL’s most recent report to its VPP project funding partner, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, lays out the slow but now quickening pace of installations since it picked its new battery vendors. At the end of May 2018, 312 batteries had been installed in customer’s homes, more than 700 batteries had been sold, and more than 500 requotes for customers to upgrade to the newer battery systems had been processed.
But the report also showed that the collection of batteries installed so far “can respond as expected to both planned and unplanned dispatch events and has the potential to respond rapidly enough to participate in the 6-second contingency FCAS market,” which is Australia’s frequency regulation market.
The new project with AGL will bring some new twists to the kind of work Enbala has been doing so far, CEO Bud Vos said in a Tuesday interview at Greentech Media’s Energy Storage Summit in San Francisco. Beyond being the largest single project yet for the startup, it will also be focused on providing wholesale market services like capacity and frequency regulation, or distribution grid benefits like voltage and power quality management, but on both.
“One key component of their definition is that it can be used both for load relief as well as distribution side benefits,” he said.
As one of the largest “gentailers” in Australia’s competitive energy market, AGL has a retail relationship with the millions of customers it serves, and the responsibility to manage their energy needs on the markets run by the country’s transmission grid operator. It doesn’t control the distribution grid in between, however, even though operation of all those batteries could have a significant impact on that grid — a problem that is bound to emerge as DERs take a larger role in energy markets.
In the case of the AGL VPP, Enbala will be looking at ways to support voltages on distribution feeders with high solar penetration, as well as to provide capacity and frequency regulation at the wholesale market level, Vos said. And, of course, it will also be managing the imperative to maximize customer self-consumption of the solar power they generate, given Australia’s current low feed-in tariff rates.
Over the past decade or so, Enbala has built a significant portfolio of customers using its technology to bid responsive energy loads into energy markets. It got started tapping big industrial motors, water treatment center pumps and other variable loads into frequency regulation markets run by mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM and Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator, and helped coordinate chillers, refrigerators and other behind-the-meter flexibility as one of several partners in Canada’s PowerShift Atlantic project.
In the past few years, Enbala has been partnering with utilities to put its technology to use in managing loads at the distribution grid level. Last year, grid giant ABB named Enbala its official distributed energy resource management system provider, with tight integration to ABB’s advanced distribution management system platform used by utilities to manage distribution circuits and equipment. It’s run pilot projects in Hawaii using rooftop PV solar inverters and projects in Southern California modeling big industrial and commercial loads to help balance grid disruptions, as well as to manage behind-the-meter batteries for Southern California Edison’s Integrated Grid Project.
In the past year and a half, Enbala has landed a project with Ontario municipal utility Alectra to manage batteries, loads and electric vehicle charging at its microgrid, as well as commercial and industrial demand response contracts with Portland General Electric and Public Service New Mexico. It has raised about $42 million in venture capital funding to date, with investors including ABB Technology Ventures, GE Ventures, National Grid, Chrysalix Venture Capital, EnerTech Capital and Obvious Ventures.