Energy storage in utility’s future

President says “time is quickly approaching”
Fri, 08/04/2017 - 10:15am

Block Island Power Company President Jeffery Wright believes that the time for a battery storage system at the Block Island Power Company could be “quickly approaching,” meaning that its backup diesel generators — even for emergencies — could soon become a thing of the past. The practical usage of a battery storage system is evident in its proposed application for Deepwater Wind’s latest utility-scale project.

Deepwater Wind, the developer that built the Block Island Wind Farm, is proposing a new 144-megawatt Revolution Wind Farm located 30 miles offshore and 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard that includes a 40-megawatt-hour battery storage system to serve Massachusetts’s clean energy needs, if approved, by 2023. According to a press release issued by the company, the wind farm, the largest combined offshore energy producer/storage project in the world, will have a battery storage system provided by Tesla, Inc., an automaker, solar panel manufacturer and battery storage company based in Palo Alto, California.

Wright told The Block Island Times that, “Affordable and effective battery storage is considered the holy-grail in our industry and is definitely in our plans in the future. Batteries can act to smooth out intermittent renewable production and supply backup energy to a source such as Block Island. They can also result in savings in various forms.”

A battery storage system could offset the need to upgrade some equipment at the plant, said Wright. “Depending on the location there may be some deferred capital investment savings. This all factors into the economic analysis and at some point the savings will outweigh the cost. I think that time is approaching quickly. We are only waiting for it to become more economical.”

Wright said he is aware and tracking the development of the technology and has knowledge of Deepwater Wind’s project. He said with a 40-megawatt hours battery storage system that Deepwater Wind is proposing “we could run the island during the winter on one megawatt for about 40 hours. During the summer peak period we could run the island on five megawatts for 8 hours. It would definitely help eliminate a lot of diesel fuel usage, or possibly provide us with enough confidence that we could eliminate, or at least reduce, the need for backup generators.”    

Wright acknowledged that a battery storage solution could mean an end to BIPCo’s diesel generation on the island. “That would be our goal,” he said. “Capturing and storing renewable energy is quiet, environmentally friendly and innovative. Burning diesel fuel in a backup generator lights up the island, but it should not be anyone’s long-term strategy. It is definitely a short-term goal for us right now and we are eager for the day when a storage solution makes sense. Affordability is a big part of the equation.”

“I have been a part of this type of analysis before and the overall cost of a storage solution usually comes down to how many times the batteries can cycle in their lifespan,” said Wright. “The more they can cycle, the longer the life and bigger the benefit. That drives our cost per-megawatt-hour down.”

Per, at an event in Australia in July, Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla, said the battery life for a 129-megawatt hours battery storage system that is proposed for Neoen’s 100-megawatt land-based Hornsdale Wind Farm in South Australia would be about 15 years. The battery storage system for that project would contain the largest lithium ion battery produced in the world.

Wright said that he thinks “what Elon Musk is doing is revolutionary. I’m just not yet convinced that lithium is the best storage technology long term. That’s why a lot of these projects are demonstration projects.” 

“A lot of research has been done with flow batteries, which are not lithium-based. They are very inert, actually, and it seems that technology is proving itself very effective,” noted Wright. “Solve the battery life/cycle limitations and batteries will become affordable for everyone. We are watching very closely and I look forward to the day we can trade in our combustion engines for a battery storage solution.”       

Wright noted that, “The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded many grants to help fund these sorts of projects. It is on my radar to stay aware of any opportunity that is out there that we would qualify for.”