Sep
11
2017

What’s in Store for Storage?

The Salvation Army asks people who want to help those directly affected by Hurricane Irma to visit helpsalvationarmy.org, call 1-800-SAL-ARMY or text “Storm” to 51555.

During the recent spate of hurricanes, I’ve talked with friends and relations across the Southeast to see how they’ve prepared, weathered the storm, or in some cases, worked with line crews to assist restoration efforts. In several conversations, we discussed (again) whether a home generator is worth the investment. So, when the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) released its new energy storage market snapshot last week, I was doubly motivated to read it and learn more about how utilities and individuals can join the energy storage revolution.

 According to SEPA, “storage is a rapidly evolving segment of the energy sector” and “batteries of all sizes are positioned to play a significant role in grid operations in the near future.” Other stakeholders seem to agree. Kevin McIntyre, nominee for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman, was questioned by members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his confirmation hearing last week. He was asked what role energy storage should play in the electricity markets and how FERC should properly compensate storage for the benefits it provides to the grid. (FERC has an open rulemaking asking how to remove barriers so that storage can more fully take part in the organized markets.)

Undoubtedly, energy storage will be part of the utility of the future, but when and how much? Is storage truly just around the corner, or are we just taking the first steps of a long journey?

 SEPA’s report defined storage as “batteries, flow batteries, kinetic energy storage (such as flywheels), supercapacitors, and compressed air energy storage.” Survey respondents include utilities that represent “slightly more than 75 million customer accounts out of the 130 million in the U.S.” SEPA offers the following topline data in the report’s executive summary: 

·      Total installed energy storage nationwide is now 622 MW / 661 MWh across 2,399 systems.

·      California led the way with new installations in 2016 (120.5 MW / 176.6 MWh), but the Midwest held its own with Indiana adding 22 MW / 20.8 MWh), and Ohio bringing on 16.1 MW / 6.2 MWh.

·      31 utility respondents deployed their first energy storage project in 2016. Conversely, of the 155 utility respondents, 44 did not have any interconnected energy storage systems at the end of 2016.

·      Residential deployments accounted for 4.5 MW / 7.5 MWh, while non-residential accounted for 54 MW / 68 MWh.

·      Utility-supply storage assets grew to a cumulative 514 MW / 509MWh due to 29 new installations.

After digesting these numbers, and realizing that 622 MW is about the size of a small power plant, I checked my memory of the overall scale of the nation’s electric power market. In its August 2017 “Electric Power Monthly,” the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that the country’s total net generation for June 2017 was 355,774 thousand MWh, or 355,774,000 MWh.

SEPA’s report does an admirable job of making the existing 622 MW of storage capacity come to life, highlighting several utility pilot projects across the country. Reading over these, it’s easy to see that utilities, states and consumers are trying a lot of new things and that everyone has a great deal to learn about details such as cost, technology, siting, battery lifespan and disposal, to name a few.

Consumers also need time to understand how storage fits into their homes and businesses.  Always a willing guinea pig, I did some online browsing for storage solutions. At the Tesla Power Wall site, I entered my home’s size statistics and some modest goals (one day of backup power for my home, powering lights, outlets and the fridge) for performance of a battery wall. I was quoted $5,500 for one 14kWh Powerwall battery, $700 for supporting hardware, and provided an estimate of $800 to $2,000 for installation that does not include possibly needed electrical upgrades. I’m pretty sure if I go back to my friends and relations affected by Harvey and Irma, the survey will say that the average family would apply $7000+ to many other priorities. 

Purely by the numbers, while storage may be rapidly evolving as technologies shift and storage pilot projects deliver new information, installed storage capacity is still an incredibly tiny piece of our overall electricity system. Storage won’t and shouldn’t scale all the way up until utilities, customers, and storage provider partners have time to sort out essential questions. It may be premature to set sweeping rules for organized markets when some states haven’t even brought a single storage facility online. 

PACE will return to this important subject in order to highlight these questions in detail, as we did in an August blog on the supply of Rare Earth Elements, an essential component for renewable energy and many storage applications. Share your storage ideas and questions with us at energyfairness.org, on Twitter, or Facebook.