Vermont Electric Cooperative is building a virtual power plant to meet some very real challenges—and opportunities—in a rapidly evolving power industry.

Virtual power plants (VPP) aggregate resources such as solar panels, batteries and devices like smart thermostats into a controllable combination of load, storage and distributed generation that can reduce the need for additional physical generation.

Johnson, Vermont-based VEC has seen rapid growth in distributed generation, EV ownership and battery storage among its 33,000 members.

“We have almost 50 megawatts of distributed generation on the system," says Cyril Brunner, VEC's innovation and technology leader.

The cooperative has about 250 EVs on its system, a total that's been doubling every year, he adds, while 10% of its members have installed heat pumps, a number that's also growing.

The challenge comes in adapting to meet the additional load and DG that come in this environment. VEC is forecasting its peak load could double by 2040, which would overload many of VEC's infrastructure assets.

“There's just no way we're going to be able to upgrade the infrastructure in time to serve these new loads . . . so really, the best way to do that is to manage the loads that are getting added," says Brunner.

But the co-op is seizing the chance to do more.

“We also see a pretty significant opportunity to partner with our members in new programs and find ways to save them money," Brunner says.

VEC is offering an “EV flexible load program" that rewards members with a bill credit if they agree not to charge their vehicles during demand peaks. The co-op will provide an EV charger that allows Vermont Electric to send a signal not to charge during those events.

The co-op also offers a monthly bill credit to members who allow VEC to use their home battery a certain number of times during load peaks. A final piece, Brunner adds, is a good Distributed Energy Resource Managements (DERMS) program.

“Integrating all these elements into a common platform is key," he says.