To harness the unpredictability of power generation when the source is Mother Nature, many industry watchers point to energy storage technology as a solution.
Sure, such energy storage — as in the form of batteries for example — offers the obvious in terms of ability to amass unused electricity, making it possible for the likes of solar homeowners to tap into their personalized green power supply after the sun goes down.
But energy storage can do so much more. Technological advancements have given storage new abilities, including balancing power supply and demand instantaneously throughout the electric grid. And that means storage can make power networks more reliable, efficient and cleaner. It can even supplant the need to build a fossil-fuel power plant in some cases.
Despite energy storage’s capabilities, it is still a nascent industry, making up about 2 percent of U.S. generation capacity, according the Energy Storage Association.
Looking to speed up storage adoption is Janice Lin, co-founder and executive director of the California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA). Lin began the membership-based advocacy group in 2009.
The idea of starting the Berkeley-based group took root the previous year, when Lin was working for a storage client through clean energy consulting firm Strategen, a company she founded in 2005 and still works for as a managing partner.
She was helping her client amend a California Public Utilities Commission incentives program when a commission staff member commented that there wasn’t a clear voice representing energy storage in regulatory proceedings and that Lin should think about filling that void.
Since then, Lin has enlisted about 90 member companies into CESA. She helped start Energy Storage North America, an annual conference that attracts more than 1,500 attendees to talk about the convergence of storage with distributed and utility-scale power networks, and transportation. And in 2014, she co-founded the Global Energy Storage Alliance to spread the word internationally about the need for storage and how to adopt it.
SolarEnergy.net spoke with Lin about what it takes to make energy storage a go-to resource, and the lesser-known perks for homeowners who want their own storage systems. The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.
What is the biggest barrier to energy storage adoption?
Education. When I randomly talk to people at energy conferences the knee-jerk reaction from most people is, “It’s too expensive. It’s not commercially ready.” This is an uninformed opinion.
Today, energy storage is very cost effective for certain applications if all the benefits it can deliver are fairly valued and compensated for. Decision makers, including utilities and regulators, are not aware of this fact. One of the beautiful things about storage is that it can do many things from one asset. One storage device can provide peaking and grid-balancing services, and depending on where it is located it can even provide distribution or transmission-deferral benefits.
How is solar playing into storage adoption?
I like to describe solar and storage like chocolate and peanut butter. They are great separately, but they’re even better together. There are several reasons for this. For example, you can put solar anywhere. Storage is much the same way. Just like solar, storage can be co-located at a very large scale. Storage can also be integrated with small residential solar projects and single project homes. So they scale nicely together.
Sometimes solar projects have difficulty getting interconnected because the capacity of the electric grid at the point of interconnection may be too constrained at the time of peak solar output. Energy storage can shift that solar production to other times of the day when the transmission or distribution circuit is less constrained.
Storage with solar also helps solar projects get a higher capacity value from the system, if solar can be dispatched through energy storage and counted on at any time of the day. In short, by adding storage solar developers can get paid more for the power they are delivering.
What perks can energy storage bring to homeowners that many folks don’t realize?
Currently, for behind-the-meter applications the biggest value proposition of deploying energy storage is to avoid demand charges, and to a lesser degree, shift energy consumption from periods when the energy is high-cost to periods when the energy is lower-cost.
Most residential tariffs today are on a tiered tariff structure. In other words, the more you use the more you pay per kilowatt-hour. In the case of tiered tariffs, there is no value proposition for shifting consumption from one period to another using energy storage. There would, however, be value to the homeowner of having energy storage handy in the event the grid went down.
However, if a customer was to move to a time-of-use tariff — and that is optional in California — a residential customer can take advantage of energy arbitrage. So you charge up the battery during times when power on the grid is very inexpensive. Then, instead of buying power from the grid when it’s really expensive on a marginal basis, you just use the energy stored up in the battery.
There is increasing movement around residential communities who pool their resources to invest in and share the benefits of a solar system. Can homeowners benefit in a similar way by combining their energy storage resources together?
The ability exists to aggregate multiple residential battery systems and provide services to the wholesale market. Basically, what we are talking about is a customer-sited asset participating in a wholesale type activity. There are challenges to doing this though, including metering and telemetry issues — which are currently being addressed — and a tariff issue still in need of resolution.
Solar can come to legal blows with utilities, especially over net metering. How would you describe energy storage’s relationship with utilities?
When it comes to net metering, utilities did not want brown power [power generated by fossil fuels and non-clean energy sources] stored in a battery to be dispatched back to the grid and count toward net metering. We don’t want that either. That’s not the purpose of net metering. The good news is it’s very easy from the metering and monitoring standpoint to make sure that doesn’t happen.
I would say the utilities have a very healthy and positive relationship with energy storage in general, because they see how it can be used to help manage the grid and lower costs for all ratepayers.
That said, we haven’t always agreed with utilities. Sometimes there have been issues where they have been in downright opposition. But it’s in CESA’s DNA to always look for areas of common agreement and bring it back to our mission, our goal, and find areas that we agree on, and that has served us well.
Energy storage spans across many industries and government agencies. Do you have a daily motto that guides you so you can be productive working in a disjointed landscape?
What you focus on is what you get. It’s really important to focus and work on the right things so you don’t get overwhelmed with everything. Just focus on a few things and do it well. I think that analogy works for teams and it also works for the regulatory landscape.