Solar + Storage = Smart

ISS develops utility-scale solar PV farms, so we are interested in developments in battery storage.  For anyone who considers solar energy unviable for power needs because of intermittent availability, news from the last few months should be softening that viewpoint.  Utilities in many states are either actively pursuing solar facilities with storage or are investigating adding storage to an existing solar plant, for good reason; battery storage means renewable energy can be dispatched as needed.  All signs indicate solar plus storage is a union coming into its own.

Using batteries for renewable energy storage capacity is not new, of course.  The U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA) gives some sense of the history: “the first large-scale battery storage installation in the [U.S.] that was still in operation in 2017 entered service in 2003.”  The battery-storage trend has picked up momentum since then, with EIA data showing that as of October 2017 “The  U.S. has more than 700 MW of installed utility-scale battery capacity.”  Early this summer, Ravi Manghani, an industry analyst for GTM Research who directs the organization’s research on energy storage, explained the continuing growth this way: “We are at a point in the industry where adoption is expected to go up significantly.”

Announcements in the solar industry offer proof of this prediction.  This spring Lightsource made the decision they would not consider any new solar projects west of the Colorado River without storage.  Arizona Public Service issued a request for proposals this summer to add 106MW of battery storage to existing solar plants, as part of its larger goal of 500MW of storage over the coming 15 years.  There is increasing activity at the state level as well. Hawaii is extremely active in renewables plus storage.  Kauai Island Utility Cooperative achieved Smart Electric Power Alliance’s top ranking “in 2017 for energy storage deployment per customer, [and in June signed a power purchase agreement for a] 19.3MW [solar facility] paired to 70MWh of battery energy storage capacity.”  Furthermore, Hawaiian Electric is investing millions in “new energy storage capacity.”   California has a “state mandate for investor-owned utilities to deploy 1.325GW of energy storage by 2015.”  On the east coast, Massachusetts wants “to install 200MWh of storage in the next three years.”  New York’s current plan is for 1,500MW by 2025, but this summer, the state began discussions of targeting 3GW by 2030.

Right now, lithium ion (LI) batteries dominate the battery storage landscape.  The EIA reported in May that in excess of “80% of U.S. large-scale battery storage power capacity is currently provided by batteries based on lithium-ion chemistries.”  And here are two indicators regarding the future growth potential of storage capacity for renewable energy plants.  The price of LI batteries has dropped, “80 percent since 2010,” and Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects “$548 million [to be] invested in battery capacity by 2050, two-thirds of that at the grid level.”   In addition, researchers are working on different types of batteries.  Two potential alternatives include flow batteries and water-based batteries.  Flow batteries last longer than LI batteries, and  Lockheed Martin hopes to introduce a battery using this technology by the end of 2018.  Vice President for energy initiatives Frank Armijo explained they are working on a flow battery that will use a proprietary electrolyte chemistry and will break the mold of current flow batteries by using “low cost earth metals and chemicals.”  He went on to explain that while other companies are dependent on toxic materials to create batteries, Lockheed Martin would not follow that model.  Further, there’s promising research on a manganese-hydrogen based battery.  Although the prototype is small, “researchers are confident they can scale up [the battery] to an industrial-grade system that could charge and recharge up to 10,000 times, creating a grid-scale battery with a useful lifespan well in excess of a decade.”

Grid resiliency and energy storage go hand in hand, and their importance cannot be overstated.  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) highlighted this significance with this summer’s announcement of funding up to $30 million for research on projects that “enable long-duration energy storage on the power grid, providing reliable electricity for 10 to approximately 100 hours.”  Although it might be obvious, it’s worth stating.   All efforts into storing and dispatching power from solar resources underscore the established presence of renewable energy in our country, and given our historical dependence on fossil fuel, this shift is no small thing.  At ISS, we are doing our share to further secure solar energy’s place in our country’s power mix.  We invite others to join us in making clean energy the norm, not the exception.  For more information on opportunities to work with us, please visit our website at or call 828-424-7884.