Companies including GM, Ford, Google and solar energy producers have said they would work together to establish standards for scaling up the use of virtual power plants (VPPs), systems for easing loads on electricity grids when supply is short.

Energy transition nonprofit RMI would host the initiative, the Virtual Power Plant Partnership (VP3), which would also aim to shape policy for promoting the use of the systems, the companies told Reuters.

Virtual power plants pool together thousands of decentralised energy resources like electric vehicles or electric heaters controlled by smart thermostats.

With permission from customers, they use advanced software to react to electricity shortages with such techniques as switching thousands of households’ batteries, like those in EVs, from charge to discharge mode or prompting electricity-using devices, such as water heaters, to reduce consumption.

Reuters said VPPs were positioned for “explosive” growth in the United States, where the 2021 Inflation Reduction Act had created or enlarged tax incentives for electric cars, electric water heaters, solar panels and other devices whose output and consumption can be coordinated to smooth grid load.

RMI estimates that by 2030, VPPs could reduce US peak demand by 60 gigawatts, the average consumption of 50 million households, and by more than 200 GW by 2050, Reuters said.

Rob Threlkeld, director of global energy strategy at General Motors, told Reuters VP3 would be able to “show that EVs can become a reliable asset to the retail utility and or the retail transmission operator” and “can be an asset to a homeowner and to fleet customers”.

VPPs have already improved grid reliability in such countries as Germany and Australia and in some US states, Reuters said.

Other founding members of VP3 include Ford, SunPower and Sunrun, Reuters said.