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Capacity management is the unheralded silver bullet of grid modernization. While smart grids, renewable generation sites and distributed generation get lots of press, tools that help utilities maximize how efficiently they use their energy capacity are proving incredibly valuable. Energy storage systems, even behind-the-meter batteries, pay dividends in this area.
Pointing to research performed by the Electric Power Research Institute, a recent Greentechgrid report explained that capacity management has slipped off the radar for many consumers and even, to some extent, utilities, but it could prove the next key area for grid innovation.
Looking at the challenges that come with capacity management
The capacity management challenges facing utilities and, to a lesser extent, consumers, are fairly straightforward. Utilities are moving away from traditional generation models to support renewables and natural gas plants. At the same time many households and businesses are putting rooftop solar panels in place. The report explained that these trends are doing great things from an energy efficiency perspective, but they are creating a climate in which the power that is generated is not necessarily used efficiently.
"Capacity management is the unheralded silver bullet of grid modernization."
Capacity management is the problem here. The EPRI has been studying this issue over the course of a few years, and the situation is extremely complex. However, it can be simplified into a simple relationship – power is being generated by diverse sources, and not necessarily used to its full extent.
For example, rooftop solar panels that are creating more power than the household they support are not efficient from a capacity management perspective because they are creating more power than is actually being used. They may still be a sustainable solution, but capacity management challenges create huge challenges for utilities. The report noted that some operators have turned to creating base monthly payments for customers using rooftop solar panels, but maintaining a grid connection, to help resolve the issue.
Energy storage technologies can help consumers handle capacity management. Putting lithium ion batteries or similar solutions behind the meter can help consumers or businesses capture power they generate on site for later use. However, the relationship between capacity generated by renewables and the power that is actually used gets much more complex for utilities.
San Diego Gas & Electric proposing capacity management pilot project
San Diego Gas & Electric has been at the cutting edge of exploring grid modernization, and it recently proposed a project that would take advantage of consumer-owned energy storage systems that reside behind the meter to support capacity management in the grid, Utility Dive reported.
According to the news source, the utility is proposing a project in which it will partner with consumers using rooftop solar panels and energy storage to purchase power back to support ancillary supply-demand balancing, deal with demand spikes efficiently and reduce the costs associated with distribution system upgrades.
This project highlights how utilities can potentially use behind-the-meter energy storage technologies to maximize the value of capacity that is created across its grid infrastructure. Energy storage systems give utility operators the flexibility to balance workloads efficiently regardless if those solutions end up being deployed in front of or behind the meter.