Another step for distributed storage
Yesterday's column took off from an astute reader's remarks and parallel points made in that day's news media -- a pleasing coincidence some call "synchronicity."
That tells me our discussion of smart grid-related issues is far from insular; rather, the general public and mainstream media are paying attention. (And thank goodness for a break from metering uproars.)
Today I want to look at a distributed storage project based on batteries, which appears to offer one method for utilities to buffer demand at the distribution level. And I'll finish by noting some of the really solid points readers made yesterday on electric vehicles (henceforth, EVs).
Storage, of course, is one of the industry's Holy Grails and an integral aspect of the smart grid. Just 12 hours of storage, enough to shift loads between peak and off-peak, could work wonders to balance the supply-and-demand equation. Efficient, utility-scale storage is an area I need to get up-to-speed on. But distributed storage is being investigated at a scale I can more easily grasp.
Short-term, local storage strengthens the value proposition of distributed generation to both homeowner and utility. Storage could help alleviate uncertainties over electricity costs facing the American consumer. I understand that a lot of very smart people are working on this goal.
Thus it should come as no surprise that nearly 50 related projects -- battery technology, manufacturing and recycling, EVs, charging infrastructure, educational programs -- won stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (I'd like to hear of such projects that didn't get funded, and whether they got shelved or are moving ahead.)
One such demonstration project involves American Electric Power in Ohio (AEP Ohio), which is putting in place multiple elements of a smart grid in northeast central Ohio that includes 110,000 consumers in parts of Columbus and nearby communities. This is a $150 million project AEP Ohio dubs "gridSMART."
In what AEP Ohio calls community energy storage (CES), the utility has recently selected S&C Electric Co. to help it integrate small-scale, battery storage at the distribution level. International Battery's prismatic lithium-ion batteries won the contract for this demonstration project.
(In contrast, we've recently discussed in some detail an example of large-scale, distributed thermal storage innovations by Ice Energy, now being deployed by Southern California Public Power. Here are recent articles by colleagues Kate Rowland, Warren Causey and me.)
AEP Ohio's CES project involves putting a module of batteries between the distribution transformer and the meters on four to six homes. The first CESs will go from lab testing to the field about a year from now and are expected to produce 25 kW for one hour. An average home uses about 1.2 kW/hr, according to Jim Sember, vice president for power quality products at S&C. At that rate, the CES can run six homes for up to three and a half hours.
"Most reliability problems occur at the substation and transformer near your home," Sember told me recently. "A small battery system can address that challenge."
International Battery's prismatic lithium-ion batteries are large-format cells designed for "energy applications" -- that is, constant power output over several hours. "That's 'grid-friendly,'" Sember said. CES can also take the kinks out of frequency variations in electricity passing through the distribution system.
AEP Ohio will need four to five years to get sufficient data on performance and cost to determine whether CES fulfills its vision, and can do so at scale, according to Almgren. "The concept of 'community energy storage' makes a lot of sense," he said. "Our technology is a good fit. I'm humble about the challenges."
I'll close with a few thoughts posted by readers of yesterday's column on EVs' challenge to utilities, particularly their recharging load at the distribution level.
One reader asked if anyone has data on the aggregate load represented by all the cars and trucks on the road today -- what is the magnitude of the potential fuel shift? If any readers know of such calculations, please write in.
EVs need to avoid charging during peak hours and, thus, battery swapping during peak hours may be an excellent business model -- not incidentally, one that has garnered hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for Better Place, a start-up that is implementing that idea.
Meanwhile, readers encouraged utilities to be involved up front.
"PG&E is right to be looking at this seriously and I hope others utilities are considering it as well," one reader said. "The cars are coming. The clock is ticking. We will not have a smart grid implemented before they get here so some action needs to be taken."
Intelligent Utility Daily