In addition to flying a kite in a thunderstorm, Benjamin Franklin also coined the terms “positive” and “negative” to describe concepts in his experiments on electric current batteries in the 1740s. Battery storage has come a long way since the days of Franklin’s experiments, and many believe that we are on the verge of technological breakthroughs that can be game changers in our electric power infrastructure.
Earlier this summer, Alevo hosted a conference which I attended on “Storage and Micro-grids” at its manufacturing facility in Concord, NC. Alevo is an energy service provider (ESP), systems integrator, and project developer based in Switzerland. Speakers at the conference highlighted numerous benefits of energy storage systems. One of those benefits is to support “micro-grids” – a local energy grid with control capability, which means it can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously. Duke Energy recently received NCUC approval for a 95 kilowatt battery/micro-grid project at a remote communications tower on Mt. Sterling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Much of the current attention on batteries has focused on their ability to “time-shift” energy, especially when coupled with solar and wind resources – storing electricity when it is produced (i.e. when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing) and delivering it when and where it is needed. Other benefits, however, include increased emergency response capabilities and resiliency, grid optimization, peak shaving, and frequency response and regulation.
While the current costs of grid-scale battery installation and maintenance are largely known (and declining), challenges for utility decision-makers and regulators are how to model and quantify these benefits. Concerns over the safety and flammability of batteries (highlighted by the recent problems the the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 batteries) will also need to be addressed (especially for local zoning and permitting approvals). (Alevo touts its inorganic electrolyte used in it GridbankTM units as a solution to this problem.) Charging and discharging rates are other variable that can affect the functionality of battery storage.
The question is no longer “if” batteries will be part of our future electric energy infrastructure, but rather “when?” “where?” and “how?” such technology should and will be deployed. As costs come down, the answer to that first question appears to be “sooner rather than later.” The answers to the other questions can be better answered with more study – research and study from policy, technology, and operational perspectives.
Fortunately, HB589, recently enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed by Governor Cooper, advances that process. Part XII of that new law (on page 19) calls for the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill to conduct a study of energy storage technology and provide a report of that study than no later than December 1, 2018, to the Energy Policy Council and the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy. We look forward to following this work of the Collaboratory.