The NEC Energy Solutions Blog

Energy storage initiatives highlight the industry’s potential

We often pause to talk about new energy storage projects, but this month we are taking a slight diversion. We'll still look into some new projects, but the focus will not so much be on new projects themselves, but instead talk more about what those projects mean for the industry as a whole. The energy storage industry has been evolving and maturing at a fairly rapid pace, and all of this innovation can be difficult to keep up with. As such, many utility providers and generation companies are scrambling to figure out how they can use the technology effectively, how storage systems are impacting the industry as a whole and what they can do about it.

California project inspiring innovation in Canada
You read that heading correctly. A recent Beacon News report explained that some of the energy storage innovation happening in California is showcasing the potential that storage offers in Canada, where a few existing projects show the significant potential for the industry.

"Battery storage solutions are the catalyst for energy industry innovation."

According to the news source, a utility provider in California recently took an unexpected measure when it put one of its peaker plants up for sale. The 100-megawatt generation plant was an important part of the grid because it is the type of energy generation facility that can quickly generate power in response to a sudden peak in consumption. These types of natural gas power plants have long held an important place in the industry, so it is somewhat surprising to see one up for sale. However, the utility found that battery-based storage offered even more flexibility and responsiveness in a more efficient way, and chose to invest in batteries and sell the peaker plant.

Having enough wind power in place to deploy such a robust battery project may not an option at the moment in Canada, but the report pointed to the Cowessess First Nation wind energy storage project as an example of how the innovation happening in California is also beginning to emerge Canada. The Cowessess First Nation wind energy storage project is located near Regina, Saskatchewan, and it includes a lithium ion battery system capable of providing approximately 744 kilowatt-hours of power. Ryan Jansen, a research engineer with the Saskatchewan Research Council, told the Beacon News that batteries have allowed the project to smooth out the spikes in energy provided by the wind turbine.

Variability can limit the effectiveness of wind power efforts, but batteries ease this problem by storing excess power and making it available as needed. According to the report, Jansen and other experts working on the Cowessess First Nation wind energy storage project have been able to substantially increase the output of the wind turbine and made its power more consistent.

"We also tried firming; so making the wind turbine actually look like a generator with a steady output. And so we were able to achieve that at certain levels for durations of 95 percent of the time over two or three days," Jansen told the news source.

Utilities and solar companies can get along
There have been plenty of discussions about how energy storage and distributed renewable generation solutions can put utility providers and solar companies at odds with one another. One of the key issues in the industry is figuring out how these stakeholders can interact effectively to move the sustainability agenda forward without excess disruption. A recent CleanTechnica report explained that, in most cases, public utility commissions and solar panel companies do still struggle to get along. However, there are a few recent examples of utility companies working well alongside solar solution providers, driving innovation in the areas they serve.

The news source said that there are many situations where public utility commissions have fairly broad authority to influence policies and procedures relative to supporting the needs of energy consumers. This means that while it is possible for utility commissions to hold back innovation if they so desire, they can also serve as catalysts for innovation. This has happened in a variety of areas, including New York, Arizona, California, Georgia and Minnesota where utility commissions have been able to pass legislation or otherwise encourage increased investments in distributed solar energy solutions.

Taking a bird's eye view
These industry movements toward variable renewables and energy storage showcase the potential for an energy grid that has transformed around distributed generation methodologies. However, we may be closer to that industry shift than many think. A recent GreenTechMedia report said that the distributed generation future that has been a key discussion point for a long time may already be here.

Citing a white paper from GTM Research, the news source explained that the move toward distributed generation has evolved to such a point that there are now three clear pathways to transitioning to these operational models. At this point, different paths will be relevant in various regions, but the research document explores which of these models will likely work best in different environments. Having such a clear idea of how distributed generation is evolving shows that the vision for a more efficient energy future may not be too far away.

Energy storage in the middle of it all
These conversations about distributed generation, rooftop solar panels and increased wind turbine use represent a path toward innovation in the energy sector. Battery storage solutions are the catalyst for this innovation. Lithium ion batteries and other advanced storage technologies offer businesses the foundation they need to implement new generation models and take advantage of variable renewable resources. This is accomplished in a few key ways:

  • Project deferment – using storage systems to hold off on expensive projects that may not be necessary as the industry evolves.
  • Improving reliability – having stored energy available in the event of any hiccups in a more distributed energy grid.
  • Strengthening renewables – capturing excess power generated by wind and solar sites to maximize their contribution to the grid.

These are just a few examples of how energy storage solutions can help utilities and other energy industry stakeholders prepare for innovation. Having a stable foundation is key to being able to withstand and embrace change. Batteries provide that reliability.

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