100,000 homes in Ontario form 90MW virtual power plant

Ottawa, Canada. Photo: Vlad Ghiea/Dreamstime
Ottawa, Canada. Photo: Vlad Ghiea/Dreamstime

More than 100,000 households in Ontario have enrolled in the central Canadian province’s demand response programme, which rewards participants who reduce their electricity usage when demand is running high — particularly on hot summer afternoons when air-conditioners are on full blast.

The context: Grid operators, who must constantly maintain a balance between power supply and consumption, increasingly see demand reduction schemes as critical tools in their arsenals — akin in many ways to power plants that can ramp up quickly to help meet spikes in energy usage.

By turning thousands of homes into a single aggregated resource — known as a virtual power plant — a system operator can significantly trim load on the grid and avoid resorting to costly peaking plants, which tend to run on polluting gas.

The latest: Under its Peak Perks programme, which was launched in mid-2023, Ontario’s system operator (IESO) can remotely adjust how much energy participating households’ air-conditioners and heat pumps use, via their smart thermostat devices.

Participants receive C$75 when they enrol in programme, plus another C$20 for each additional year they stay enrolled. They also trim their energy bills by reducing consumption when power prices are high.

With more than 100,000 residents now enrolled, IESO says it can deliver a temporary demand cut of up to 90MW by raising household temperatures by up to two degrees Celsius (though participants can opt out of each “event” if they want to). That’s equivalent to taking a city the size of Kingston off the grid.

The operator “activated” the virtual power plant six times over the summer of 2023, with the final event in early September achieving a maximum one-hour peak demand reduction of 54MW.

“Enrolling more than 100,000 homes in the first six months of the Peak Perks program is testament to the scale that’s possible when electricity providers and customers partner on initiatives that provide mutual benefit,” said Erika Diamond, senior vice president of customer solutions at EnergyHub, which is IESO’s service provider for the Peak Perks programme.

“The IESO is well on its way to building Canada’s largest residential virtual power plant, which will play a key role in keeping the grid reliable and accelerating decarbonisation.”

The operator says its suite of demand management programmes has reduced Ontatario’s energy usage by 15%.


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