ELECTRICITY

Sales of energy storage batteries take off as utilities try to smooth power demands on the grid

Electric utilities, once happy to provide nonstop power to all of their customers all of the time, are beginning to warm to the idea of socking power away for another day.

Thanks to rapid technological advances and market shifts, large utilities like Duke Energy of North Carolina, Consolidated Edison of New York and Southern California Edison are investing tens of millions of dollars in the development and deployment of commercial-scale energy storage facilities.

New data released this morning by GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association show that U.S. utilities and other firms installed 5.8 megawatts of energy storage in the first quarter of 2015, an 18 percent increase from the same quarter in 2014.

Seventy-two percent of the first-quarter storage capacity was built "in front of the meter," meaning the systems were installed by utilities or grid operators, while 28 percent was installed "behind the meter" by home and business owners, school systems, and military bases, according to GTM.

For all of 2015, GTM says that the United States will deploy 220 MW of new energy storage capacity, with 89 percent of the additions coming in front of the meter and 11 percent behind the meter. Pricing for energy storage systems will also continue to fall as the technology matures and new markets open, according to GTM.

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Ravi Manghani, senior energy storage analyst and lead author of the report, said that despite considerable barriers to entry, "grid-service storage pilot projects and procurements are just starting to get off the ground and will fuel the growth of the behind-the-meter market segment."

More flexible generation

Duke currently owns nearly 15 percent of the grid-connected, battery-based energy storage capacity in the United States, according to independent research firm IHS Energy, including a 36-MW battery storage system at its Notrees Windpower Project in Texas that was completed in 2012.

This week, Duke announced a partnership with three other firms -- LG Chem, Greensmith Energy Management Systems and Parker Hannifin -- to construct a 2-MW energy storage system at a retired coal-fired power plant in New Richmond, Ohio.

Also yesterday, General Electric announced it would supply a 7-megawatt-hour energy storage system to New York-based Convergent Energy + Power for use by the Ontario Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which manages the flow of 34,000 MW of power across Canada's most populated province.

If adopted at scale, experts say energy storage could allow utilities much greater flexibility in how they generate power, such as the use of more intermittent solar and wind power, while also helping to eliminate bottlenecks on the power grid.

"Fast-responding energy storage is recognized for the tremendous benefits it provides to grid operations, because it can instantaneously absorb excess energy from the grid or release energy," Phil Grigsby, Duke's vice president of commercial transmission, said in a statement. "Delivering that power in seconds, as opposed to a power plant that could take 10 minutes or more to ramp up, is the unique value the battery system provides to grid operators."

The latest Duke project, which is to be completed later this year, would effectively double Duke's energy storage capacity at the former W.C. Beckjord coal plant southwest of Cincinnati on the Ohio River from 2 to 4 MW.

Developing more agile distribution

LG Chem, headquartered in South Korea but with manufacturing facilities in Holland, Mich., will deliver the Ohio project's advanced lithium-ion batteries, while Greensmith of Reston, Va., will provide energy storage control and analytics software, and system integration services.

Sunghoon Jang, LG Chem's senior vice president for energy storage solutions, said the Ohio project will be the second built in partnership with Greensmith within the PJM Interconnection, the United States' largest electricity grid and the fastest adopter of front-of-the-meter energy storage, according to GTM.

The company has also worked with Southern California Edison and the Energy Department to build the 39-MWh lithium-ion Tehachapi Wind Energy Storage Project in California. That pilot project began operating last year and will continue through 2016.

In Ontario, GE's 7-MWh battery storage system should help IESO grid managers "balance longer-duration voltage and frequency," officials said. The system, which should be operational by fall 2016, "also offers energy-related services such as peak shaving and load shifting, depending on the IESO's needs."

Frank Genova, Convergent's chief operating officer, said in a statement that GE worked closely with his firm "to create a fully integrated energy storage solution that meets the growing needs of the local transmission system."

Earlier this month, Convergent commissioned a 3-MWh energy storage system in Boothbay, Maine, in partnership with solar power developer GridSolar, Lockheed Martin and C&D Technologies. The project, meant to help alleviate peak power reliability problems during the summer, is the first of a series of projects to be built by Convergent in New England, according to the company.

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