WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2016 – Whether the courts decide to throw out or approve the administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) to limit power plant carbon emissions for the first time, count on energy storage thriving and continuing to improve the nation’s electric grid.

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Senior Principal Keith Dennis tells Agri-Pulse that energy storage has been important to the nation’s rural electric co-ops for decades, long before the CPP was drafted. He says energy storage remains important with the current court-ordered CPP stay and will become increasingly important with or without CPP implementation. “The technology and the consumer benefits are what’s going to drive energy storage and it’s certainly something that needs to be an option,” Dennis explains.

Dennis says that along with the well-publicized use of batteries for energy storage, NRECA is focused on using homeowners’ hot water heaters and their electric vehicles (EVs) to store energy because this adds value to what homeowners already own while reducing their electricity bills.

Heating hot water and charging EV batteries at off-peak rates is a quick and easy way to use existing assets to reduce peak electricity demand, thereby lowering electricity costs and reducing the need to build new power plants. That’s why NRECA and its Community Storage Initiative partners, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Edison Electric Institute, American Public Power Association, and the Peak Load Management Alliance, highlight the “low-hanging fruit” of water heaters and EVs. But Dennis notes that the storage initiative supports the full range of storage technologies, from using hot water heaters and EV charging, to space heating, ice storage, pumped hydro, compressed air, and battery storage.

Dennis forecasts increased use of all storage technologies as intermittent resources like wind and solar are added to the national grid. NRECA’s goal, he says, is to ensure that consumers benefit from the changes not only thanks to cheaper electricity but also “from being able to participate” by being compensated for the peak-shaving value and other benefits provided by their own water heaters and electric vehicles.

With energy storage proliferating coast to coast, many people consider renewable energy sources like wind and solar the main drivers. That’s because storage fills the gaps in intermittent renewable energy generation very effectively. But as Energy Storage Association (ESA) Executive Director Matt Roberts explains, “Energy storage can rapidly balance all types of generation and load, allowing fossil plants to run more efficiently and maximizing renewable output.”

The beauty of energy storage, whether with batteries, community storage, or other technologies, is that power stored during off-peak hours and then used or delivered to the grid when demand peaks, reduces the need for generating power – whether from coal, natural gas or other sources. Awareness of the need to increase storage spiked sharply following two California surprises: the massive natural gas leak from the Aliso Canyon storage facility near Los Angeles, which lasted from October 2015 to this past February, and the plan to close the state’s one remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon. California has responded with legislation mandating a rapid increase in battery storage, while utility companies have signed contracts for more battery storage.

As part of the California response, Tesla Energy and Advanced Microgrid Solutions are providing a battery storage system for the Irvine Ranch Water District. Mary Aileen Matheis, the IRWD board president, commented last week that “this battery storage system – the largest in the nation – provides significant cost savings, enhanced grid stability and contributes to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a smaller carbon footprint.”

Along with its quick-start ability to add supply to match volatile demand within a fraction of a second, storage can provide benefits ranging from reducing the need for new power plants to preventing power outages. So even if Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump succeeds in his plan to reopen closed coal power plants, expect to see energy storage play an increasingly important role in reducing the cost of electricity while boosting reliability.

As well, expect to hear lots more about “prosumers” – the electric utilities’ customers who are rapidly shifting from being just consumers to also being electricity producers and demand balancers who provide significant value to utilities and the national grid. Pointing to the new age of “aggregated storage systems and virtual power plants,” ESA’s Roberts says storage is “creating an entirely new distributed tool for grid operators,” empowering “homeowners and businesses to be active participants in the grid” and “helping improve system performance, efficiency and reliability.”

Roberts concludes that, as already demonstrated in the states leading the way on storage – California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon – “advanced energy storage provides system-wide benefits that greatly reduce the cost of operating our electric grid, especially costly peak demand.”

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The Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Economics of Battery Energy Storage” report concludes: “Energy storage can provide 13 fundamental electricity services for three major stakeholder groups (customers, utilities, or independent system operators/regional transmission organizations) when deployed at a customer’s premises (behind the meter). ... Energy storage deployed at all levels on the electricity system can add value to the grid. However, customer-sited, behind-the-meter energy storage can technically provide the largest number of services to the electricity grid at large – even if storage deployed behind the meter is not always the least-cost option. Furthermore, customer-sited storage is optimally located to provide perhaps the most important energy storage service of all: backup power.”

Despite all the benefits offered by storage, the RMI report concludes that “to enable behind-the-meter energy storage to provide maximum benefits to the grid . . . several regulatory barriers to behind-the-meter energy storage market participation must be overcome.” To maximize storage benefits, the report’s recommendations include:

·    Regulators – “Require that distributed energy resources (including storage) be considered as alternative, potentially lower-cost solutions to problems typically addressed by traditional ‘wires’ investments and/or centralized peaking generation investments.”

·      Utilities – “Prior to considering new centralized assets, look first for opportunities to leverage existing assets, such as storage.”

·     Researchers – “Develop a detailed state-by-state roadmap that specifically identifies policy and regulatory changes that must be adapted or revised to enable widespread integration of energy storage and other distributed energy resources.”

The U.S. Department of Energy’s world energy storage database provides an interactive global map that shows, for instance, that the U.S. currently has 703 storage projects rated at 31,960 megawatt (MW) capacity. Of the 703 projects, 499 are operational, with 24,128 MW capacity. The comparative global figures, including U.S. projects, are 1,618 projects rated at 193,126 MW capacity, with 1,284 currently operational at 170,740 MW capacity.


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