A 550 MW distributed power plant, slated to be the largest distributed clean power plant, is being developed in North America. Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, an Alphabet spinoff, is committing to the funding of OhmConnect with $20 million and an additional $80 million towards the development of a demand response program leveraging OhmConnect’s technology and services across the state of California. An analysis conducted by SCE has already indicated that the state needs to add 30 GW of utility-scale storage and 10 GW of distributed storage to meet its carbon goals. The proposed distributed clean power plant will be based on a network of hundreds of thousands of California homes and the millions of smart devices within.

The need for future-proofed energy grids was laid bare this year, starting with California. The state experienced severe heat waves and a series of rolling blackouts as public utility systems worked to keep up with demand surges. Because the energy- use can be shaped through distributed resources like rooftop solar, smart devices, and electric vehicle batteries, it is now possible for connected residences to leverage IoT to scale electricity consumption up or down to stabilize the power grid. This constellation of technology and tools allows for improved energy efficiency and the ability to build a power grid that is responsive to 21st century needs. This 550 MW Resi-Station project will be a testimony of it. At full scale, Resi-Station will be the largest residential virtual power plant in the world.

OhmConnect, on behalf of Resi-Station, will provide a tech-forward user experience that will incentivize customers to reduce their electricity consumption via real-time communication prompts. For instance, a customer may receive a text asking her to adjust her thermostat for a few hours in exchange for a reward payment, offering upside to the customer, the power grid itself, and the environment. Through Resi-Station, SIP and OhmConnect plan to scale this approach to reach hundreds of thousands of California homes, with customers rewarded for delivering energy savings. Between Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, OhmConnect was able to reduce energy usage by nearly 1 GWh and compensated customers $1 million to do so.

The traditional grid, with a basic hub-and-spoke model that sends power from a large, centralized power plant to customers, is changing. If houses have solar panels on the roof and batteries to store the power, for example, they can be coordinated to send energy back to the grid when it’s needed.  Electric cars plugged into homes can also become part of a network, sending back power to the grid when it is needed.

Whereas when demand surges, utilities typically have to turn on a “peaker” power plant running on coal or natural gas. Now, instead of running fossil plants—or having to build more—it is possible to turn to the distributed system and incentivize reduced use.

The system is simple: when customers sign up for the free service, the company will occasionally send a text asking them to save energy for let’s say, an hour, and then gives a credit based on what they likely would have used otherwise. Customers can also opt-in to have their smart devices automatically reduce usage through the program as well.

It is time to eventually see how technology can be spread across the country, especially where more renewables are coming online, and grid operators are facing the challenges of intermittency and changing weather.