Energy Storage: The Next Stage in Clean Energy!

by Emily Ruby, CCP intern   |   Nov. 11, 2015

[Map of energy storage project locations. Source: U.S. Department of Energy Global Energy Storage Database.]

With the debut of Tesla’s Powerwall in May of this year,
home-owners have begun to consider energy storage for residential use. For a
flat price of $3,000,
customers can acquire a 7 kWh lithium ion battery to store electricity generated
from solar panels to power the home or even that new electric car.

Aside from Tesla’s
Powerwall, however, energy storage for residential use has not yet hit the
mainstream. Batteries can range widely in technology type and cost, and a
homeowner may be on their own to research and design a solar system with
storage (especially if it’s off-grid). Some solar companies have been
partnering with energy storage providers to address this need (e.g. SolarCity
and Tesla; SunEdison and GreenCharge

One driver of the storage
market is that utilities are now required to meet energy storage procurement
targets, under rule-making by the California Public Utilities Commission
(CPUC). As a result, Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for storage have been put
out for the first time. PPAs and other financing policies have helped grow
solar into what it is today by making it more affordable. The CPUC has set a
total goal of 1,325 MW of storage from the investor-owned utilities by 2020. These
kind of policies can create the right economic environment for storage to
become commercially viable and widespread.

The benefits of storage are
plentiful. Storage can substitute for fossil-fueled power sources of energy. When
grid power is down, running gas-powered generators or bringing peaker plants on
line for periods of high demand can be both polluting and expensive. Storage
can be part of a utility’s larger connection plan—aiding in transmission and
distribution and relieving strain on the grid. Storage can even-out fluctuations
in frequency and voltage, changes that happen quite quickly (in milliseconds),
but that can impact the effective operations of machinery or computers. The
most evident use of storage is to compliment pure renewable energy—capture electricity
from intermittent renewable energy sources when it’s available, and feed the
energy back into the grid when the sun is not shining or the wind is not
blowing. This function of energy storage is crucial to the full transition from
fossil fuels to renewables.

Even today, energy storage
(with renewables) can be economic and attractive depending on the geography of
a project and other factors. High energy prices, an unstable or aging grid
infrastructure, and location can all drive customers and policy-makers to favor
alternative energy configurations. Places that are remote or where there is no
sufficient grid infrastructure—such as islands or villages in the third
world—can readily switch to alternative energy and energy storage rather than
rely on centralized conventional power that may be unavailable, very expensive,
or unreliable.

Solar installations paired
with storage in Hawaii have already reached grid parity (i.e. when alternative
energy becomes cost-competitive with conventional grid power). Ambitious projects
have been announced by SolarCity and Stem to continue banking on solar +
storage and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. For example, Kodiak Electric Association, a utility in Alaska, wanted to add more power to its
system. Given the choice between diesel generators or storage, they went with
batteries to allow utilization of more wind energy, thereby cutting down on
pollution and saving $560,000 in diesel generation. With advances in technology
and supportive public policy, storage should continue to become more
cost-competitive in other areas as well. To counter the looming threat of
climate change, storage in all forms—utility, residential, commercial—is
necessary and will allow greater reliance on clean renewable energy and wean us
off polluting fossil fuels.


  9. Rocky Mountain Institute. The Economics of Grid
    Defection. Feb. 2014. Retrieved 11/2/15.
  10. International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
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