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Solartility to launch Alberta's first virtual power plant

IMAGE: Solartility's logo
Courtesy Solartility Inc.

Calgary-based electricity retailer Solartility Inc. is on the cusp of launching Alberta’s first wholly green virtual power plant (VPP) for residential homes and building owners – which it states can save customers up to 30 per cent in energy costs.

The company is offering a zero-down leasing option for a combined solar, storage and electric vehicle (EV) charger system – installed and managed by Solartility’s AI- and cloud-based energy optimizer solution.

“You could say (a VPP is) thousands of small-scale solar and storage that's installed in residential homes. Then, using aggregation software, they act as one virtual power plant to interact with the wholesale market directly. That's what's really unique about Alberta is, as a retailer, we have direct access to the wholesale market,” said Kelly Tallas, Solartility’s co-founder and CEO.

“We’re able to produce in aggregate as a community . . . So basically, consuming power when the price is cheapest, and exporting power to the grid when the price is highest.”

The VPP system will go live in the first residential homes starting Feb. 10., with an initial rollout of 100 homes.

Solartility’s arrival in Alberta

Solartility began in the Philippines as a solar distributor in 2014. In 2020, the company was incorporated as an electricity retailer in Alberta, becoming a became a pool participant with the Alberta Electric System Operator. 

Previously, Tallas worked for 20 years in financial services in Hong Kong.

“The truth is, is that in the solar industry, the majority of major suppliers are China-based, so I was able to leverage some connections in China. I also speak Mandarin fluently . . . so that turned itself into a distribution business in the Philippines, and is also an anchor for our Canadian business in terms of getting supply for our products.”

He is driven by the opportunity to make a "dramatic impact on carbon reduction, specifically in Alberta," as the province is the largest carbon emitter in Canada and its electricity is 80 per cent fossil fuel-based.

As co-founder and managing director Shayne Butcher explained, the last two years have been spent setting up the business in Alberta, including pilot projects and building out the necessary software to get to the minimum viable product stage.

Solartility’s virtual power plant

There are three levels to Solartility’s software platform that comprise the VPP package.

“At the top you have the DERMS (distributed energy resource management system) and that's more utility-based. It's communicating and working with the line distribution companies, kind of a grid services idea,” Butcher said. “Then underneath that you've got the virtual power plant or aggregator software. Below that, you've got what we call our energy optimizer software, which is specific for individual homes and/or commercial (or) industrial buildings.”

Most of the work during the last year has been on the energy optimizer. The company’s software development began once it entered Alberta.

That development led to Solartility’s proprietary Internet of Things gateway device that allows the cloud-based software to communicate with all the other systems in the home via an inverter.

The VPP’s “100 per cent green” qualification comes from the solar and EV charging package Solartility will set up for customers. The up-to-30 per cent cost reduction is based on pilot projects and internal testing.

The solar inverters and EV chargers will come via a partnership with GoodWe, based in Jiangsu, an eastern province of China.

“Studies show that 80 per cent of EV charging is going to be at home,” Tallas said. “So we're just investing in that future we know is coming.”

He also said the system will be vehicle-to-grid ready, as soon as Alberta's regulations support it.

The battery and energy storage solutions will be provided by BYD Auto Co. Ltd., headquartered in China’s Guangdong province.

Solartility has a warehouse in Calgary where all the equipment will be shipped, It will utilize third-party installers to complete the job at individual properties.

In the Philippines and Alberta combined, Solartility counts 20 staff members.

Solartility’s future development

Tallas and Butcher say Solartility was always focused on delivering the total package to homes. However, it wasn’t until its arrival in Alberta that the vision came together.

“It just wasn't gonna work in the Philippines due to the nature of the beast there. So Alberta is prime for our model, really, from a regulatory perspective,” Butcher said. "(It) is an optimum market for virtual power plants.”

Ontario was singled out by Tallas as a "hot No. 2" thanks to its deregulated electricity markets.

The company has a target of reducing carbon emissions by one megaton per year by 2030 and plans to serve both residential and commercial properties, which Tallas states will require the rollout of a two-gigawatt VPP during the next seven years.

A VPP of that size, they say, translates to servicing approximately 100,000 homes, or 10 per cent of the province’s current residences.

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