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Building a sustainable future: Gaurav Shah’s impact on Virtual Power Plants and storage systems

Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) and energy storage systems are pivotal in promoting energy sustainability, says Gaurav Shah

Photo by Danny Meneses on Pexels
Photo by Danny Meneses on Pexels

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

As the world faces unprecedented environmental challenges, the importance of a sustainable future has never been more critical. A sustainable future ensures that we meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. It involves a balanced approach to economic growth, social development, and environmental protection.

Gaurav Shah stands out as one of the key figures instrumental in building a sustainable future. With a deep commitment to environmental stewardship and innovative approaches to sustainability, Gaurav has dedicated his career to developing solutions that address the pressing challenges of our time. His accomplishments paint a picture of a leader who has not only expanded his team significantly but also executed critical compliance-related projects as an individual contributor. 

This article dives deep into Gaurav’s influence on the VPP and energy storage ecosystem, examining the milestones of his career and his visions for the future of energy sustainability.

The Virtual Power Plant program

In his role at Sonnen, Gaurav was instrumental in navigating the challenges of establishing a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) program with a utility company. As a Senior Firmware Engineer initially and later as a Manager of Software Development, Gaurav played a pivotal role in implementing the IEEE 2030.5 communication protocol, which facilitated the inclusion of third-party systems and their interoperability with utility infrastructure. 

“We were running a program using our proprietary VPP software, which posed a challenge: how can we enable the utility to make the VPP program accessible to more customers so everyone can benefit and the program becomes more inclusive?” Gaurav explains. This approach led to the development of a standardized interface that significantly broadened the program’s reach and effectiveness.

Further deepening his impact, Gaurav also took on the responsibility of bridging the gap between technical solutions and business understanding within the utility companies. He elaborates, “Initially, the biggest bottleneck was that the sales and management people who would be investing money didn’t understand the technology side. Because of this, they didn’t trust the process, so I had to come up with proof of concepts and simplify things to explain to them.” This not only enhanced trust but also enabled more strategic and integrated solutions, paving the way for a successful and inclusive VPP program.

Advancing grid integration through software

Integrating software with the grid can be complex, but Gaurav and his team employed a strategic approach to ensure seamless integration. “First, we identified the specific functions required for utility from the IEEE 2030.5 communication protocol,” Gaurav explains. This initial step was crucial in setting a clear foundation for the development process. By implementing a server instance of the communication protocol and designing an API capable of collecting data from utility infrastructure, they created a robust system that could efficiently manage power needs.

The design allowed customer systems to onboard seamlessly. “Once customer systems are onboard, they can download these events over the IEEE 2030.5 communication protocol,” Gaurav continues. The API collects data from utility infrastructure and posts their power needs to the server. Based on event times, systems can then charge or discharge batteries accordingly. This integration ensures that customer systems are responsive to real-time power demands, optimizing their energy usage and contributing to grid stability.

This innovative approach benefits the broader energy ecosystem significantly. “Imagine this happening at a scale where multiple batteries are charging or discharging at the same time,” Gaurav says. Such coordination can help reduce utility transmission losses and eliminate the need to generate power using dirty peaker plants during high demand times. By enhancing the efficiency of power distribution and reducing reliance on non-renewable energy sources, this integration not only supports a more sustainable energy future but also promotes cleaner and more efficient energy use across the grid.

Championing sustainability through innovation

Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) and energy storage systems are pivotal in promoting energy sustainability, and Gaurav’s work in these areas has been instrumental. “In the industry, there was a gap in the standardized way to manage Distributed Energy Resources (DERs),” Gaurav explains. With VPPs still being a relatively new concept, manufacturers often developed their own platforms, leading to integration challenges for utilities and third parties. The introduction of the IEEE 2030.5 communication protocol marked a significant shift, though its adoption was initially slow. “Due to CA Rule 21, IEEE 2030.5 started seeing adoption,” Gaurav notes. For the Wattsmart program, his team demonstrated the benefits of this standardized communication protocol to utilities, simplifying the integration process and enhancing sustainability.

Image courtesy of Gaurav Shah

Gaurav’s contributions have had a tangible positive impact on the energy sector. By advocating for and implementing simple, standardized solutions, his work has made energy systems more efficient and sustainable. His efforts have led to more resilient and adaptable energy systems, demonstrating how standardized protocols can drive significant improvements in the management and sustainability of DERs.

Innovative approaches in energy systems development

According to Gaurav, “Innovation doesn’t have to be something new. I tried to provide a simple solution,” underscoring his philosophy that innovation can stem from the adaptation of existing solutions rather than always inventing anew. By focusing on simplicity and applicability, Gaurav effectively meets the evolving needs of the energy sector.

His methodical approach involves a thorough evaluation of available technologies to ensure they can be adapted to fit specific customer requirements. Gaurav details his thought process by answering the following questions: 

  1. Is there any existing technology available? 
  2. Can we tailor a solution out of it to meet customer requirements? 
  3. Does that technology have wider adoption, or are OEMs willing to adopt it?

For Gaurav, the answer to these inquiries came in the form of the IEEE 2030.5 standard, which he leveraged to forge a path forward. This strategic use of a widely accepted standard not only streamlined the implementation process but also encouraged broader adoption among OEMs, significantly influencing the energy industry by promoting interoperability and standardization.

Advancing interoperability and addressing grid challenges

Gaurav’ key contributions to the Virtual Power Plant (VPP) and energy storage ecosystem focus on encouraging stakeholders to adopt interoperable systems. “Today, a lot of companies are moving away from their proprietary VPP software and adopting standards like IEEE 2030.5 and OpenADR,” he notes. His advocacy for standardized communication protocols has driven significant progress in the industry, making it easier for different systems to work together seamlessly. 

Addressing grid challenges like peak demand and renewable energy integration is another area where Gaurav’s work has made a substantial impact. “Wattsmart has truly set an example in the industry by allowing a wide variety of systems to work together and dispatching energy at scale, helping to flatten the duck curve,” Gaurav says. Instead of relying on dirty peaker plants during peak demand, utilities can now schedule events for enrolled systems to discharge power. His projects, including the IEEE 2030.5 CSIP certification and UL 1741SB certification, along with the architecture design of the Wattsmart VPP program, have played a crucial role in overcoming these challenges. 

Envisioning the future of Virtual Power Plants

Gaurav imagines a world where the utility infrastructure serves as a vast network of electron highways, enabling a democratic energy market. He aspires for a system where individuals can trade energy, making the market more inclusive and allowing for a faster return on investment for energy storage system owners. Gaurav believes that the initiatives like the Wattsmart program can set industry standards, demonstrating the potential to manage peak demands efficiently without relying on non-renewable energy sources. 

His contributions to the VPP and energy storage ecosystem are not just technological feats but are steps toward a more sustainable and equitable energy future. As Gaurav continues to impact the energy industry, his vision for a democratized energy market remains a guiding light for future endeavors in the realm of Virtual Power Plants and energy sustainability.

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Jon Stojan is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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