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Blog | December 2023

5 years of sonnenVPP: Hip hip hooray for the first virtual power plant.

The story of the sonnenVPP, sonnen's virtual power plant, is the story of the revolutionary power of networking. It tells the story of a great idea that, in just a few years, has successfully developed into the foundation of a future-oriented energy system. We began tinkering with the sonnenVPP long before it was ready for the market and officially launched exactly five years ago.

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sonnen, inc.
sonnen Team

When we first launched the sonnenBatterie, more than ten years ago, we enabled households to use their self-generated solar power more efficiently. But we could not realize our vision of clean, reliable, and affordable energy for everyone with the sonnenBatterie alone.  

Our ambition went beyond the individual household. What began as an optimization of the domestic energy system was to become a revolution of the global energy system. To bring about real change, we had to think on a larger scale and mobilize the strongest force of all: The power of community. Our team's vision was this: thousands of home storage units, digitally networked, that together form a large active ‘super-battery’ that takes on the tasks of a power plant. 

After countless tests, setbacks, and development leaps, the official go-ahead for the sonnenVPP came in 2018. This was a milestone for us, but above all a new opportunity in the energy transition. We believe the sonnenVPP has the potential to eventually replace fossil-fuel power plants by bundling the flexibility offered by home storage systems and making it available to the power grid.   

The sonnenVPP provides energy where it is needed in seconds, by taking it from locations where there is a surplus. This enables the grid to cope better with the natural fluctuation of wind and solar energy, which in turn leads to greater stability and favors the feed-in of renewable energies.  

The sonnenVPP is already present in five countries on three continents. In these locations, people are coming together to create a more sustainable, independent, and affordable energy system. Participating households benefit from additional rewards, as the revenue that the sonnenVPP receives for its performance on the energy markets is distributed to the households in the VPP! 
The evolution of the sonnenVPP  

Today, the power plant of the future has outgrown its infancy. To get to this point, the sonnen team has done pioneering work with the support of numerous people from the sonnen community. Let’s recap the last few years and look at what we have achieved together! 

In 2012, we connected all sonnenBatteries to the internet, creating the most important prerequisite for networking them. This step laid the foundation for the decentralized power plant.  

Three years later, we connected households to each other virtually via their sonnenBatteries. This enabled customers to share their electricity on a balance sheet basis and thus benefit from lower electricity prices.  

In 2017, as part of a pilot project with the German transmission system operator Tennet, we provided grid services with the digitally networked sonnenBatteries. We used the sonnenVPP to balance out differences between supply and demand in the electricity, and thus stabilize the grid. This proved that our sonnenVPP worked in practice, as well as in theory! 

We received prequalification in Germany for the first time at the end of 2018, after years of development, tests, and overcoming major market entry hurdles. This made sonnenVPP an official participant in the national energy market for primary control power, the supreme discipline for grid services.   

Since then, sonnenVPP has been balancing out frequency fluctuations in the German electricity grid on a daily basis and stabilising it, which was previously reserved for large power plants. The proceeds go to the participants in the sonnenVPP. The sonnenVPP as we know it today was born. In Germany, we are the first and only company providing balancing power using a large-scale virtual power plant from home storage systems. We are also one of the pioneers of this technology worldwide. 

In the two years that followed, the sonnenVPP grew beyond Germany's borders. Time and time again, we had to adapt it to the local conditions. In the USA, we equipped an entire apartment community of over 600 residential units with our technology. Over 5 MW of solar power was generated and stored for self-consumption, and the local power grid was relieved at peak times to avoid power outages.   

In the UK, we received the highest certification for the British power grid and went directly to the grid with over 100 sonnenBatteries in our sonnenVPP. This was a unique program in the UK, supported by the European Union. We were also the first provider in Italy to receive prequalification in the field of networked electricity storage. From then on, the sonnen batteries distributed in Italy helped to stabilize the national power grid.   

After a big leap across the ocean, the sonnenVPP has also gained a foothold in Australia: customers are rewarded when they make their sonnenBatteries available for grid services - regardless of which electricity contract they have. Within 18 months, we launched our virtual power plant in five countries. 

While the sonnenVPP continued to grow internationally, in 2021, Germany took an important step towards the energy transition: Smart meters were approved in private households. This formed a basis for digital energy products such as the sonnenVPP, as they record electricity consumption in real-time. To send a clear signal for the digitalization of the energy system, we installed smart meters in our customers' sonnenVPPs free of charge. 

We celebrated a major milestone in the USA in 2022 as we opened up our VPP software to third-party providers. This led to the integration of hundreds of batteries from other brands into the sonnenVPP. We also entered intraday trading in Germany with the sonnenVPP, enabling our customers to benefit even more financially from the provision of their battery resources. 

The story continues 

More and more people are convinced that it is not only important but also beneficial to become part of the sonnenVPP. And so, the influence that the sonnenVPP has on global energy systems is also growing. In Germany, we reached the mark of around 25,000 available batteries in the sonnenVPP this year, or 250 MWh total capacity. This means we are heading straight for the 1 GWh mark.  

Sweden is the latest addition to the list of countries where we offer the sonnenVPP. After a successful three-month test with multiple Swedish households, sonnen and its partners will present an official offer to participate in the sonnenVPP at the beginning of 2024.  

And it is not just the number of participants that is increasing, the technical possibilities are also growing. As part of an extensive early user test, we’re integrating electric vehicles (EVs) into our VPP for the first time and have managed to link the two sectors of energy and transportation. Instead of burdening the grid, EVs became an active and stabilizing part of the energy system.  

Our vision is that in the future, mobile batteries from EVs or electricity consumers such as heat pumps will also be a natural part of the sonnenVPP and can be charged or activated to serve the grid. And, we're on the right path to achieve this. With the power of this community, we are creating the electricity grid fit for the future. And thus shaping a new and better energy future for everyone.