Industry group says energy storage still going strong despite troubles with key players

Source: Umair Irfan, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2012

Officials from the energy storage industry yesterday gave a sunny outlook for their sector despite financial trouble among some players, citing new projects, growing markets and advances in storage technology.

“My goal here is to tell you that this works,” said the Electricity Storage Association’s (ESA) policy director, Katherine Hamilton, speaking at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. “These are technologies that are really important that we need to make sure are included in our energy policy.”

Currently, there is 23 gigawatts of energy storage on America’s electrical grid, the bulk coming from pumped hydroelectric energy. However, Brad Roberts, ESA’s executive director, said the biggest growth area is distributed energy storage — that is, smaller-scale battery and flywheel units that offer redundant power next to renewable energy producers.

One key advantage from distributed storage projects is that they take up less land, according to Roberts. For 1 GW of capacity, you need 77,000 acres for wind energy, 5,700 acres for solar power and 28 acres for a site where excess electricity is put in battery storage, he said.

Energy storage systems are also spreading to the edge of the grid in community systems, Roberts said. These devices provide one to two hours of electricity near demand sources like residential neighborhoods. One system is already deployed in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, serving 1,700 customers with 80 energy storage units in a project funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Such systems control peak loads from homes to shave the demand that utilities face when air conditioners switch on in the summer, and they serve as backup power sources. “People are demanding better power quality,” Roberts said. “More and more people are working from home, and they can’t afford to have any disruptions in electricity.”

Cyrus Ashtiani of Saft Batteries highlighted a project his company is conducting with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority to capture electricity from trains slowing down as they pull into stations instead of dissipating braking energy as heat. This system can capture 1,000 to 2,000 megawatt-hours of energy, while cutting 1,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, 5 tons of sulfur oxides and 1 ton of nitrogen oxides, Ashtiani said.

Early players ‘bleed a little’

Officials also said some new policies are working in their favor. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order No. 755, the “pay for performance” measure issued a year ago, rewards energy suppliers for consistent output and frequency regulation rather than their sources of generation or other variables. Here, energy storage systems have an advantage over power generators, since storage systems can rapidly ramp up or down in response to price and demand signals.

However, the picture is not entirely rosy: A123 Systems Inc., a major grid-scale battery supplier, filed for bankruptcy last week and agreed to a buyout (ClimateWire, Oct. 4).

“Like any industry, there’s going to be initial shakeouts and reorganizations as the early players bleed a little bit to help the industry move forward,” Roberts said. “We’re confident the industry will continue to move forward and those companies will continue to exist in the marketplace.”

Ashtiani added that this type of financial turmoil occurs in many emerging technologies. “At the dawn of the automotive industry, there were hundreds of car manufacturers, but eventually, over the years, they consolidated into the few stronger companies,” he said. “So it is not unusual in this industry to see something like this happen, and it’s not necessarily negative in the big scheme of things.”

Under the Recovery Act, energy storage received $182 million. Hamilton noted that $585 million in private investment bolstered these funds, creating 535 megawatts of storage on the grid. “People are seeing this as a great business opportunity,” she said. “We just have to go through that cycle of innovation, as well.”