Renewable Energy Storage Gains Critical Mass

A host of U.S. renewable energy storage executives recently gathered here in the Silicon Valley are referring to the rapid expansion of the storage industry by comparing it to the solar power industry six or eight years ago, before that companion sector became the juggernaut it is now.

These storage advocates were assembled for the Energy Storage North America exposition, which doubled in size compared with last year, according to conference chairperson Janice Lin. Also co-founder of the California Energy Storage Association, Lin said that “energy storage is a game changer for the electric power system, and this year’s ESNA event truly represents that.” 

Storage Belatedly Following PV Growth Curve

A number of investors in energy storage touted the wisdom of their bets. “Energy storage is one of the holy grails of renewable energy; the main issue is that costs still have to come down,” commented Andrew Chung, a partner at the venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, based in Menlo Park. “Energy storage wasn’t invented for grid-scale applications, but with it getting acceptance in solar, more states and nations will start to move toward implementing policy,” he said. Khosla lists six energy storage start ups within its portfolio now.

Similarly, Peter Rive, the co-founder of SolarCity said, “In three to five years, storage will be a standard component of residential solar power, not optional, but deployed with every solar system.” He continued, “It won’t look that different to the customer, but the fundamental value proposition will be cleaner and cheaper.” Rive also said that electric vehicle (EV) charging capability was likely to become a feature of the energy storage rollout.

Standout Projects Raise Storage Profile

Among standout energy storage projects highlighted at the show was the City of Santa Clara’s Levi Stadium, which features over 1,000 solar panels and six electric vehicle charging stations. The stadium also has installed Green Charge Networks’ GreenStationsystem to help curb its power demand and lower electric bills, which spike during certain hours on game days, compared with minimal power and energy consumption throughout the remainder of the year.

Developers like AES also are building a global network of pioneering energy storage projects associated with renewable energy. “We now have 200 MW of energy storage online, mostly in the United States and Chile, including four utility scale plants built, and 2,000 MW on order,” said John Zahurancik, the president of AES Energy Storage, based in Arlington, Va. “There is a demand for 30 GW of new peaker plants by 2024, and by that year, battery production capacity will exceed the peaker need by a factor of four,” he added, suggesting energy storage would be well positioned to compete.

Solar panel manufacturers now moving into energy storage also will drive adoption more rapidly. Kyocera, for example, recently has forged new strategic relationships with both Stem, the energy storage developers, and with Healthy Planet Partners, a clean energy solutions fund that finances, implements and maintains distributed energy and energy. Many energy storage companies have begun offering financing through their own balance sheets or through such partnerships with financial companies. 

Ontario a North American Storage Leader

Apart from the now well-know U.S. state programs in California and Hawaii, the current energy storage initiative for the Canadian Province of Ontario is “to purchase 35 MW of varying storage at a rough cost of $42 million, “which will show up in couple of years,” says Kim Warren, the vice president of operations for the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) of the province, based in Toronto.

“We received 431 applications for 12 projects, with differing technologies, and we are doing a three to five year study of the combined storage system to see how storage will value, like California is doing; we may even conduct it in consultation with California,” Warren said. Describing the limitations of pumped hydro storage, and provincial plans to shut down 13,000 MW of nuclear power within five years, He suggested that wind and solar fit the ISO’s needs better. “We already have 9,000 MW of wind and solar contracted,” he said.

The Ontario IESO is studying the use of renewable energy storage not only for the primary grid, but for microgrids and remote off-grid locations, which abound in Canada. “We have purposely put renewables and storage in both congested and uncongested areas,” Warren said. “It is inevitable that as we move toward microgrids, especially with solar parity, we will need more intelligent conversation between the grid operators and the microgrids. The regulators will have to decide who pays for what,” he said.

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Charles W. Thurston is a journalist who specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.

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