As advanced energy has, well, advanced over the past few decades, the conversation has advanced as well. Whereas in decades past the challenge was convincing folks that solar and wind could power anything larger than a 17th century grain mill, the challenge now is getting past the notion that the power grid can handle only so much wind and solar, which are variable resources. But that idea, too, is starting to go the way of the windmills of yore. So says the Wall Street Journal.
Writing in the Journal, former WSJ bureau chief and University of Southern California journalism professor Gabriel Kahn highlighted several AEE member companies in an article titled “Renewable Energy’s Potential May Be Understated.” Using California as an example of a state with a high penetration of renewable energy (the state is consistently setting records for how much electricity is generated by solar and wind), Kahn explains that the fear that renewable energy would prove to be too overwhelming has proved baseless. “The tipping point the power industry feared hasn’t materialized,” Kahn writes.
“You’ll hear numbers [that] people bandy about and most of them are wrong: ‘We know we can get to at least 35% or 40%,’ ” Haresh Kamath, an expert in energy storage and distributed generation with the Electric Power Research Institute, is quoted as saying. “Now that we’re getting to those numbers, people are pushing them up again.”
Utilities are learning that implementing several advanced energy solutions makes the grid more resilient and responsive. A solution that combines large-scale energy storage with energy management software is proving itself in the crucible of this California summer. Kahn highlights several advanced energy companies that are making seamless grid integration possible, including AEE members EnerNOC, SolarCity, and Enphase Energy.
“When you wrap all these things together, solar, batteries and software,” Enphase Energy CEO Paul Nahi said, “you start to solve a lot of these problems.”
None of this comes as a surprise here at AEE. Earlier this year, we published a report from the Brattle Group showing how utilities and grid operators in Texas and Colorado – two states with high and rising penetrations of renewable energy – were successfully managing those variable resources.
The ability of the grid to utilize renewable energy is not the only way the potential of advanced energy is understated. Official projections of the growth of these technologies also routinely miss the mark. To see how much, check out this graph:
Back to how our member companies are showing how it’s done. In another sunny U.S. state with a high penetration of renewable energy, SolarCity recently announced a partnership with Hawaii’s Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) to purchase the first “fully-dispatchable utility-scale solar facility in the U.S.” The facility will include both a 13 MW solar installation and a 52 MWh battery storage system. The idea of “solar-plus-storage” is taking hold in a variety of contexts, but this marks the first combination of solar and storage as an integrated system providing dispatchable power to the grid.
In other storage news, AEE member GE announced a deal earlier this month to provide 30 MW of energy storage infrastructure for Coachella Energy Storage Partners (CESP), which is contracting with south central California’s Imperial Irrigation District (IID). GE is no stranger to the California energy storage market: it already contracts with Con Edison Development in California. IID is doing this storage deal independently of California’s policy requiring investor-owned electric utilities to incorporate energy storage into their portfolios, as IID is not investor-owned, and it’s a water utility, not electric.
“We chose GE as the energy storage system provider for this project because they supplied the most comprehensive solution at a competitive price,” Mike Abatti, president of CESP, said in a statement. “GE is well-positioned to serve the needs of the project and will remain a stable, reliable technology provider as the energy storage industry evolves.”
Download the report from The Brattle Group, mentioned above, which provides an overview of how utilities and grid operators, in Colorado and Texas respectively, have integrated variable renewable resources while maintaining reliable electric service.