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How Energy Storage and Virtual Power Plants Will Improve Illinois’ Grid Reliability During Summer

Updated: Jul 5


workers installing solar panels
(Photo via Nelnet Renewable Energy)

The newest summer grid reliability assessment from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) found that large swaths of central, northwestern, and southern Illinois are in an elevated risk zone for blackouts due to high peak loads this summer. Energy usage skyrockets as people try to keep cool during heat waves, which are more frequent than ever as the climate crisis continues. The good news is that we have solutions to avoid this.


Solar energy, storage, and virtual power plants (VPPs) are critical tools for Illinois’ grid to weather peak loads during summertime heat or other weather-related events that may stress the energy grid. 


When the sun is beating down during an intense Illinois heat wave, solar panels can use the sunlight to power homes, businesses, and public facilities. Summertime often has so much sunshine that solar panels will actually produce more energy than they need. 


To harness this surplus, storage infrastructure holds onto excess energy to be used when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Residential solar panels on their own save consumers an average of $1,987 on their energy bill annually, according to a recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Coupled with storage solutions, it’s easy to see how those savings could combine to further reduce energy bills.


For those who do not have solar and storage, VPPs can help them stay connected and cool while lowering energy costs for anyone connected to the grid. VPPs work by connecting existing devices such as rooftop solar and storage systems to pool their collective power and distribute it across the grid at peak times. Not only does this reduce peak energy costs by drawing on excess power and delivering it to targeted areas, but it also prevents the grid from burning extra non-renewable fuel that harms the environment.


VPPs are gaining traction and seeing success across the country. Last year, Sunrun and Pacific Gas & Electric created a VPP project in California that paired 8,500 residential solar-plus-storage systems to inject approximately 30 megawatts of power into the grid during peak usage times each evening from August through October. In Puerto Rico, Sunnova’s VPP program has helped prevent five blackouts since November 2023 alone.


With such success, many leaders are acting to access VPPs’ benefits. Just this spring, Maryland and Colorado enacted legislation to create VPP programs that will reduce consumer costs and improve reliability. By 2030, the Department of Energy aims to have 160 gigawatts of VPP capacity – enough to prevent as many as 160 fossil fuel plants from being built to meet needs.


Illinois could be the next state to create a VPP ecosystem.


Solar Powers Illinois’ three nonprofit partners — the Solar Energy Industries Association, Illinois Solar Energy & Storage Association, and the Coalition for Community Solar Access — are strong advocates for investing in clean energy and storage solutions. We are excited to be collaborating with forward-thinking Illinois lawmakers and other nonprofit groups to improve resilience by increasing energy storage development and establishing a VPP program for the state. Keep an eye out for more information soon!


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