VCharge is pioneering the market for Transactive Load—distributed electric load coupled to energy storage that is capable of intelligent response to changing grid and market conditions. We identify these loads, make them controllable via the Internet, and then aggregate them into a grid asset (a “virtual power plant”) for grid operators that produces a cash flow that can ultimately be securitized.
Our technology enables transactive loads like electric thermal storage (ETS) heaters, hot water heaters, ice-based air conditioning, compressed air storage, and electric vehicles to buy energy at reduced cost, while providing valuable ancillary services to grid operators.
Conventionally, generators–often owned and operated by large utilities–provide most of these ancillary services (e.g., frequency regulation and spinning reserves).
Through our distributed system for managing transactive loads, VCharge provides these services more efficiently. These ancillary services assure the security and stability of the grid, and are totally transparent to end users. VCharge’s primary revenue source is grid operators, so we position our technology as a Virtual Power Plant that offers them control of aggregated transactive load in much the same way as they control generation-side assets.
Our VPP technology stack is comprised of three major systems:
VNet™, VCharge’s power management platform based on scalable, market-driven principles. VNet coordinates the activities of distributed transactive load assets through price signals and protocols that ensure the reliable operation of the grid under a wide variety of local conditions and constraints.
Asset controllers, consisting of hardware and software that use historical data and forecasts to optimize energy buying and provide utility-grade metering. We have seeded the transactive load market with our SmartBricks™ and SmartHydro™ controllers for ETS heating systems. We have designed these controllers to handle other loads like electric car charging stations and compressed air systems.
VConsole™, a web-based user interface that offers information and control for end users, utilities, and maintenance personnel.
Through our control of transactive loads, VCharge delivers value in various ways:
Ancillary services. By rapidly turning loads on or off every second, VCharge provides high-quality ancillary services to grid operators without affecting the comfort or reliability of consumer or business customers. VCharge currently provides fast frequency regulation (load balancing following a two- to four-second signal) to ISO New England, and to PJM, the grid operator in the Mid-Atlantic. Here’s a recent example of our performance in PJM territory with our fleet of several hundred electric thermal storage heaters:
VCharge can also provide spinning reserves to grid operators, delivering megawatts of emergency “generation” (in the form of negawatts) for up to several hours with virtually no advanced notice required, and no degradation of performance for end users.
Energy arbitrage. Most off-peak charging technology simply turns on loads during the night, ignoring the fact that electricity prices vary by a factor of 2x-5x over the day. Under VCharge control, loads buy electricity selectively during a few hours throughout the day and store it for later use. VCharge monitors the price variation in real time and purchases electricity when it is cheapest to reduce the cost of charging by up to 50%. By combining savings from arbitrage with profits from ancillary services, we can save more than 50% of the cost of charging compared to a standard time-of-use charging scheme.
We sell new electric thermal storage heating systems and retrofit controllers in existing storage heaters in North America, participate in utility programs to grow the market for new electric heat, and are developing opportunities in Europe where grid instability is an urgent matter and electric thermal storage heating is common, with millions of units installed in Ireland, the UK, and Germany. The economics of a VCharge VPP compare favorably to traditional generation projects:
In the longer term, VCharge’s virtual power plants will be the premier platform for controlling many types of transactive loads—we have identified over $13 billion of opportunity. However, our most profound opportunity may be in balancing renewable energy generation: Because heating and transportation represent massive loads that can store energy when it is available for use when it is needed, they offer a solution to the problem of intermittence that prevents the realization of high penetration of renewable energy on electric grids. VCharge’s ability to provide low cost energy-balancing services through transactive loads makes the path to high penetration by renewable energy plausible.
Like many smart grid companies, VCharge’s technology, when fully deployed, offers the promise of fundamental change in energy management and use. In contrast to most smart grid companies, we are delivering benefits to customers right now, reducing the cost of heating in Massachusetts, Maine, and Pennsylvania, and providing ancillary services to grid operators ISO New England and PJM.