Large-scale energy storage is a huge investment that at least some utility executives are banking on these days. Others are likely waiting to see if it keeps its juice, fiscally speaking.
Three recent announcements show that some power firms are sold on using battery technology to help smooth out the fluctuations of renewable energy and maintain grid reliability. E.ON North America, Consolidated Edison, Louisville Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric all announced or unveiled major storage projects here in the past few weeks. Private firm Alevo is planning a major expansion of its GridBank storage array production site in North Carolina.
This comes as the Energy Storage Association is gearing up for its annual conference and exhibition in Denver next month. The 27th annual conference will be April 18-20.
Does it all make sense from a fiscal point of view? Time will tell, as always, whether the steep investments prove to have a payoff and the renewables continue to come online which need stabilizing on the grid.
But, those questions aside and with a new president promising to dump regulations and save the coal industry, many utilities still are moving ahead with energy storage.
San Diego Gas & Electric showcased its massive lithium-ion battery complex in Escondido, California late last month. SDG&E called the 30-MW storage plant the largest such li-ion facility in the world.
Built in partnership with AES Energy Storage, the Escondido plant can provide up to 120 MWh of energy, or enough for 20,000 customers for four hours. SDG&E and AES also built a 7.5 MW energy storage site in El Cajon, California.
These two projects, John Zahurancik, AES Energy Storage president said at the time, “are the latest proof of energy storage’s capacity to scale up and solve our most pressing grid issues in a short period.”
On the opposite coast, ConEdison is aiming for a smaller, yet equally important storage project to its region. The New York utility filed an application for a project called “Storage on Demand,” which will deploy batteries capable of sending 1 MW of power for four hours into the grid to serve local homes and businesses if needed.
“Battery storage technology is advancing quickly and can provide us with another tool to keep our service reliable on the days our customers need it the most,” said Matthew Ketschke, Con Edison’s vice president, Distributed Resource Integration, in the statement. “Battery storage can also help us defer making upgrades to our infrastructure, saving our customers money.”
Con Edison has formed a partnership with NRG Energy, which owns almost 50,000 megawatts of generation capacity across the United States, to develop and build the units at NRG’s generating station in Astoria, Queens. Storage on Demand will consist of two mobile battery trailers and one mobile electrical switchgear trailer.
The difference here is the mobility of the system. When Con Edison and its customers do not need the batteries, the units will be stored at the generating station and the partners will sell peak-shaving, contingency support and other services into the New York Independent System Operator wholesale market.
In the southwest U.S. Chicago-based E.ON North America announced recently its Texas Waves energy storage projects will be co-located at the existing E.ON Pyron and Inadale wind farms in West Texas. Texas Waves consists of two 9.9 MW short duration energy storage projects using lithium-ion battery technology.
The Texas Waves projects will be the second and third grid connected lithium-ion battery systems installed by E.ON in North America and are expected to be online by the end of 2017.
E.ON North America’s Texas Waves energy storage projects will be co-located at the existing Pyron and Inadale wind farms in West Texas. The projects will be the second and third grid connected lithium-ion battery systems installed by E.ON in North America. Iron Horse (pictured), E.ON’s first energy storage project is currently under construction southeast of Tucson, Ariz. All three projects will be online by the end of 2017.
“Our Texas Waves projects allow us to break new ground and establish ourselves in the storage business in the Texas market, complementing our more than 2.7 gigawatts of operating wind capacity in the state,” said Steve Trenholm, President of E.ON Solar & Energy Storage.
And finally, last week Louisville Gas and Electric Company and Kentucky Utilities Company launched the new Energy Storage Research and Demonstration Site at its E.W. Brown Generating Station near Harrodsburg in Mercer County.
The project, which was developed in collaboration with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), became operational in January and will allow the utilities to develop, test, and evaluate the potential benefits of utility-scale battery technologies. It will also investigate operating needs and associated costs. Additionally, researchers will be able to use the site to advance control technologies, increase value gained from storage, and determine solutions to integration challenges for energy storage on the electric grid.
The site includes three testing bays for energy storage technologies, each able to house up to one megawatt of storage, resulting in a total hosting capacity of up to three megawatts of energy storage. The first energy storage system installed on the site consists of a one megawatt lithium-ion battery system, a one megawatt smart power inverter and an advanced control system. This storage system was custom-engineered for the site and can support a number of advanced control functions and use cases during testing.
“The Energy Storage Research and Demonstration Site is unique among other sites in the utility industry because it provides us a testbed for evaluating multiple utility-scale energy storage technologies at the same time,” said Dr. David Link, manager of Research and Development for LG&E and KU.
Plenty of energy storage capacity has been announced since the ESA last congregated in Charlotte last year. Southern California Edison has close to 400 MW of energy storage under contract, nearly double that was installed nationwide in 2015.
SCE’s Tehachapi Energy Storage Project demonstration was the largest lithium-ion battery storage in North America until SDG&E started their Escondido plant. The facility is located near one of the largest wind generation hubs in the U.S.— the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area—and is capable of supplying 32 megawatt-hours of electricity.
On the non-utility, private enterprise front, Swiss-based Alevo last month announced it was pouring another $215 million worth of investment into its new GridBank production facility in Concord, North Carolina, according to a February news report in the Charlotte Observer. Alevo converted the former Philip Morris cigarette plant into an energy storage production site and opened it in 2014.
The transition has come with some hitches. Alevo promised to employ 500 people within a year there but the count was closer to 215, although they averaged more than $50,000 in annual pay, well above the local average. Alevo also got sued by unpaid contractors for close to $4 million in unpaid liens, according to the Observer.
Nonethless, Alevo said it is moving full speed ahead. Its latest announcement projected an additional 200 jobs over five years and more production lines. The company also applied and was approved for more than $13 million in state and local job-creation incentives. Those incentives are performance-based, according to the report.
Forecasters generally are saying the future is bright for energy storage investment, despite some potential pitfalls such as regulatory rollbacks and other issues. Bloomberg New Energy Finances New Energy Outlook 2016 report predicted an energy storage market valued at $250 billion by 2040, with some 25 GW in capacity installed by 2028.