Friday, September 18, 2009

What is Grid Connected Energy Storage?

The California Energy Commission recently requested input on what the definition should be for "utility connected energy storage". Here are some of my thoughts:


1. How do you define utility scale energy storage?

I would suggest looking at several common sense issues to get a handle on what is utility scale or grid connected energy storage (GCES).

First, we should define energy storage as "electrical" energy storage. That means electrical energy storage in and electrical storage out. For utility or grid applications, we need to store electrical energy for use when needed; meaning excess electrical energy is shifted to a time when electric energy is scarce. This excludes some types of valuable energy storage, like thermal energy storage, but it clarifies what we are doing.

Thermal storage is a good thing and useful, but it cannot be used to produce electrical power for the grid, so it should be excluded from our consideration. This is not to single out thermal energy, but to illustrate the need to focus on electric energy storage. The distinctive of utility or grid energy storage should be the storage of electricity. Storing electricity energy for use as some other type of useful energy does not provide the grid with the electric energy when needed. It is load only. Electric energy storage should be a two way street, not a one way street.

Logically, this also excludes electric energy generators. Again, this is an example of taking a different type of energy and converting it to electricity. Unless we define GCES as electricity in and electricity out, then a coal plant could be considered as GCES since it stores energy in the form of coal and provides energy as needed. If we do not specify electric in - electric out, then our discussion will be so broad as to be meaningless.

And, if we are careful to define GCES as electric in - electric out, then this will also exclude fuel driven compressed air energy storage systems. Such CAES systems are more clearly understood as highly efficient natural gas generators. Electric energy is used to run compressors. The compressed air is used to run natural gas generators more efficiently. Burning natural gas to produce electricity is not electric energy storage. It may be very desirable in some ways, but it should not be in the same box as other technologies that store electricity. If we include fuel driven technologies, then, again, our discussion becomes meaningless.

The second concept to address is the "storage" issue. The common sense expectation is that we are focused on storing and delivering useful amounts of electrical energy.

For example, there is a difference between delivering energy and providing power quality services. Various devices and technologies can store and deliver short bursts or pulses of power to balance short term variations in power quality. Utilities and energy users install various devices for this purpose. But their use is for power quality, not energy.

Similarly, the CAISO operates a market for frequency regulation that is considered a "capacity" market, as distinguished from their "energy" markets. Some ISO's are developing opportunities for Limited Energy Storage Resources (LESRs) to provide capacity - not energy - services, because they recognize the benefit from the quick response of such technologies. However, these systems are, by definition, limited in their energy and are not valued for their volume but for their capacity. Although valuable, they are not useful for energy delivery. At a minimum, a GCES facility should be able to store and deliver electric energy in hours, not minutes. We refer to the technical parameters used by the California Public Utilities Commission in their definition of advanced energy storage for the Self Generation Incentive Program. (Decision 08-11-044 November 21, 2008, page 12, “Ability to be discharged for at least four hours of its rated capacity to fully capture peak load reductions in most utility service territories (required AES duration of discharge will depend on each customer’s specific load shape, and the duration of its peak demand during peak utility periods).”)

LESRs should be in their own separate category for the valuable power quality benefits they provide to the grid, but they should be excluded from the GCES discussion because they cannot deliver energy in useful quantity.


Any comments?


Anonymous said...

I love you guys! I just wish the market was ready for these great products. VRB will eventually be necessary if renewables aare to become significant to the grid, but when? Also, what about the Gen 2 VRBs being bilt in Australia? Any thoughts?


Charles R. Toca said...

VanadiumJoe: It's great to see someone following the various market benefits of vanadium, including the significant contribution to energy storage.

The Gen 2 VRB's you describe are being developed by the same research team that developed the first VRB battery application in 1986. It takes awhile to get a lab project into commercial application. In the meantime, the VRB "Gen 1" is available now and many potential projects are currently being reviewed. I predict you'll be seeing some press before the end of the year or the 1st quarter of 2010.

Dave said...

Since Prudent Energy bought up VRB, things went very quiet. What's the latest on Prudent?

Charles R. Toca said...

Prudent Energy is a private company so there isn't much public information. I can tell you from my perspective that there is a good amount of interest in the VRB-ESS, driven by the smart grid and rebate programs in CA, and you will probably see some interesting news in the 4th quarter of 2009 and the 1st quarter of 2010.