Energy Storage in the Fast Lane

November 13, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

backup powerThe energy storage industry is growing quickly. It is being driven, according to experts, by the parallel growth of on-site energy generation and an increasingly attractive list of operational and financial benefits. Research of batteries for electric vehicles – by Tesla and others – and incentives from utilities completes the upbeat picture.

During the second quarter, The Energy Storage Association and GTM Research found that 40.7 MW of storage was deployed by power companies, according to the ESA and UtilityDIVE. The research suggests that the growth is being driven by the reduction in costs at the low end, which dropped from $800 to $750 per kWh during the quarter.

The organizations said batteries led the charge. An illustration of how on-site battery storage is becoming mainstream is a project announced by The Irvine Company last month. The company is installing batteries with six hour capacity in 20 buildings in Irvine and Newport Beach, CA. The project, which is being undertaken in conjunction with Advanced Microgrid Solutions and SoCal Edison, will provide the structures with 10 MW of power. The goals are to offer a way to relieve pressure on the grid when it is stressed and a backup in case it goes down. The batteries will provide 10 MW of power.

Electric Vehicle Research the Key

The progress in on-site battery storage is deeply related to the evolution of electric vehicles. “The research on batteries for EVs has had direct impact on batteries capable of powering buildings and stor[ing] energy for the grid,” wrote Dr. David Lee, CEO at BioSolar, in response to questions from Energy Manager Today. “Technology advancement in battery technology is largely owed to the years of research and development to increase driving range, reduce costs, and improve longevity of EV batteries.”

Early this year, Tesla introduced the Powerwall, which stores energy using the same battery as its vehicles. An example of its use is at Emerald Lake State Park in Vermont. Clean Technica reported last month that Green Mountain Power – which has ordered 500 Powerwalls for use around the state – tabbed Pika Energy to plan and design power infrastructure for the park featuring photovoltaics and Powerwalls.

The story says that the park wants to avoid the expense and inconvenience caused by falling trees that take down powerlines. That’s always been a problem. Now, energy storage offers a solution. The system Pika is designing is expected to cut electricity costs by 20 percent and an additional $8,000 in maintenance costs, the story says.

Utilities Benefit as Well

Renewables and on-site storage are a great thing for utilities, which is why rebates flow rather freely. Gabe Schwartz, the Marketing Director for Stem Inc., points as an example to Hawaiian Electric, which is working with the company to provide customer energy storage. This lowers end user costs and provides the utility with more certainty and flexibility.

Schwartz also pointed to a deal in which Stem—which describes itself as “an intelligent storage company” — is providing 85 MW to the utility to support the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. “Through this program, Stem will once again aggregate a fleet of Stem storage systems to use as capacity for SCE,” he wrote. “As a result, customers in this region will gain access to storage at a reduced cost, creating greater monthly electric savings. At the same time, the utility can avoid costly infrastructure upgrades or the commissioning of a new power plant by supplementing with cleaner and cost-effective storage.”

The relationship between renewables and energy storage will grow as the world of renewables evolves and expands. “Most recent battery installations have been associated with rooftop solar panels or large scale solar farms, but other types of renewable sources (wind, hydrogen, etc.) should be able to take advantage of the same type of electrical energy storage means,” Lee wrote. “ It is not the type of renewable source that determines whether they will work well with batteries, as battery storage technology can adapt to most forms of produced energy.”

2 comments on “Energy Storage in the Fast Lane

  1. Rapid growth in this case is definitely a relative term, the actual installs are trivial relative to the grid. Total battery storage installs in the US in 2015 are about equal to 3 weeks of Tesla production (1000 x 75KwH). And Tesla is just shifting demand to the evening, when the sun doesn’t shine. Batteries are getting better at the same 3-4% rate, but it is system cost that matters and there are many unresolved building and fire code related issues. The business cases, except where forced on utilities are dubious. Batteries are not going to save the grid. Unfortunately.

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