How Los Angeles could create the largest “virtual power plant” in the U.S.

By linking homes equipped with solar panels and batteries together, into one system, Los Angeles could create the largest “virtual power plant” with the capability of retiring coal fired plants


According to a new analytic report by Sunrun, energy from rooftop solar panels and batteries can replace retiring gas-fired power plants in the city of Los Angeles.

Speaking at the BNEF Summit in New York City—back in March, SanFrancisco based Sunrun’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Jurich, called upon energy industry leaders to take bold action to rapidly decarbonize the electric system.

“Our current energy system was built more than 100 years ago and was not designed for today’s energy consumers, technology or climate,” said Lynn Jurich.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, current Mayor of Los Angeles since 2013, recently announced that Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) will be phasing out three gas-fired power plants by 2029 as part of a plan to transition the city to 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

“This is the beginning of the end of natural gas in Los Angeles,” Garcetti said in February. “The climate crisis demands that we move more quickly to end dependence on fossil fuel, and that’s what today is all about.”

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Coal-fired generation puts out about twice the amount of carbon dioxide – around 2,000 pounds for every megawatt hour generated. Most of the emissions of human-caused (anthropogenic) greenhouse gases (GHG) come primarily from burning fossil fuels—coal, hydrocarbon gas liquids, natural gas, and petroleum—for energy use.

With the plan to phase out these power plants, Sunrun suggests that the energy could be replaced with a “virtual” plant established by an expansion of residential solar panels and batteries.

The concept of a “virtual power plant” that could replace one of three natural gas plants being phased out by the city has already been deployed successfully in Orange County and Waltham, Vermont. But Los Angeles would be the largest U.S. city to go virtual.

The report from Sunrun amounts to a sales pitch to the city to expand the number of solar residences to at least 75,000, which would be enough to collectively replace the power production of one gas-powered plant and save $60 million.

The Sunrun report concluded that penetration of local rooftop solar in Los Angeles is low compared to other areas in Southern California.

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Sunrun Inc. is a United States-based provider of residential solar electricity, headquartered in San Francisco, California.

According to the report, the city is home to about 182 megawatts of residential rooftop solar power installed on 36,000 homes, which represents only 2.5 percent of LADWP’s 1.34 million total residential customers.

By comparison, 139,000 homeowners, or 11 percent of San Diego Gas & Electric’s 1.25 million residential customers, have adopted solar for a total of 740 megawatts of installed capacity.

The report also found that if Los Angeles supports various programs that would result in solar panels on at least 75,000 homes, it would replace the peak capacity of one of LADWP’s retiring gas plants while saving millions of dollars.

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