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Wednesday August 21 General

Energy storage: an essential tool in the utility toolbox

By Rudy Wynter, President and COO of the Wholesale Networks and U.S. Capital Delivery group, National Grid

Disruption is the name of the game in the energy business these days, and the development and proliferation of utility-scale battery storage promise to accelerate that change.

Batteries are poised to not only help enable the interconnection of more renewable resources; they’re also providing the reliability and flexibility needed as the energy system undergoes rapid changes.

Increasingly, players in the energy industry are looking at the possibility of energy storage to provide additional grid capacity and flexibility, while also reducing the possibility of overloading the grid. Energy storage is allowing for enhanced efficiencies for generators and allowing the connection of more renewable energy resources such as wind and solar power, which can be intermittent in nature – meaning they don’t generate energy when the wind isn’t blowing, or the sun isn’t shining.

As the cost of energy storage continues to decline, more and more utilities will turn to batteries. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the levelized cost of energy for lithium-ion batteries configured to supply four hours of grid power — a standard requirement for many grid services — has fallen by 74 per cent since 2012. Costs for those batteries is projected to drop even further – by as much as 67 per cent by 2030, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found in a recent study. Such a precipitous decline will only make storage a more valuable tool for utilities and others.

Already, energy storage is quickly becoming an essential tool in the toolbox of the energy industry - an elegant solution to handle multiple needs for both utilities and customers. Storage provides system reliability, allows for the integration of new renewable generation, and can even eliminate or slow the need for more costly electricity infrastructure, potentially saving customers money. At National Grid, we’re looking to own and deploy battery storage as an exciting new tool that allows us to ensure reliability, enhance capacity and deliver for our customers.

Working with partners, last year we’ve built two 5 MW batteries on Long Island that are helping that community with peak summer energy demand. We’ve installed smaller batteries in upstate New York and central Massachusetts as well, in this case, to help provide back-up by discharging during peak hours to ensure the reliability of the system and the generation plants.

And this fall, we’ll be cutting the ribbon on what is, to date, the largest battery storage facility in the Northeast, a 6 MW/48 MW hour project on the island of Nantucket that will provide that island energy backup for the busiest of peak summer days.

The new battery energy storage system (BESS) project on Nantucket Island is a classic example of finding an innovative solution that is also the simplest one. Thirty miles off the coast of Cape Cod, the island’s energy needs have grown rapidly in the past 10 years, particularly during the summer season, when its population increases five-fold. The energy demand is only projected to grow in the coming years.

The challenge for National Grid has been to keep ahead of this rapid island growth and energy demand. For the past few decades, Nantucket has relied upon two underwater cables from the mainland for its electricity, backed up by an ageing diesel generator. To meet the growing energy demands, an infrastructure upgrade was clearly needed. At the same time, we wanted to defer the need for a more costly third submarine cable.

Cost-effective and reliable, the BESS is the first large-scale battery installation in New England. When combined with a new upgraded onsite combustion turbine, the BESS should supply the island with all the electrical power it needs should one of the two existing submarine cables experience an outage, or on peak summer days when air conditioners put extra strain on the infrastructure. And, perhaps more importantly, the BESS could well delay the need for a third cable.

The Nantucket battery is providing needed reliability and deferring the need for a much more costly solution.

Batteries are going to be a big part of National Grid’s long-term strategy as we seek ways to ensure our customers can continue to receive energy safely and reliably, while we also help decarbonize our energy system and transform ourselves into a clean energy company.

In the meantime, there remains a need to invest in research and development of even cheaper, longer-lasting batteries that can be used in grid applications. As many states push to have 100 per cent of their generation be from clean energy sources as soon as 2040, the need to have a reliable and sustained backup will be paramount. We applaud the Department of Energy’s blue-sky research program, ARPA-E‘s $28 million in research grants to develop longer-lasting battery storage systems. More must be done to support the research and development of improved battery storage technologies, as well as to bring down their cost. Breakthroughs could lead to a major transformation in our energy system.

The future for batteries is exciting and bright. Today’s disruption will be tomorrow’s standard, with more clean energy and safe and reliable storage to keep the lights on.

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