New report reviews top US projects

Grid-scale energy storage projects in the USA are causing problems for utilities, according to a report from Energy Storage Update. Photo: Borrego Springs microgrid, San Diego Gas & Electric Company

Grid-scale energy storage projects in the USA are a challenge for utilities, says an Energy Storage Update report. Photo: Borrego Springs microgrid, San Diego Gas & Electric

By Jason Deign

Grid-scale energy storage projects are still a challenge for US utilities, according to a new report from Energy Storage Report sponsor Energy Storage Update.

The free US Energy Storage Projects and Prospects Guide 2016 focuses on three leading battery plants and reveals two of them have experienced significant setbacks since they started.

Notrees, which is owned by Duke Energy in Texas, and Tehachapi, belonging to Southern California Edison (SCE) in California, both had problems with battery vendors and have subsequently had to overcome additional hurdles.

At Notrees, a 36MW, 24MWh plant that was commissioned in October 2012, the original battery provider, Xtreme Power, went out of business. The vendor’s assets ended up with the German energy storage project developer Younicos.

At the same time, however, Duke discovered the advanced lead-acid batteries installed by Xtreme were a poor fit to the storage applications emerging at Notrees, which was leading to more rapid battery degradation than expected.

Swapping out lead-acid batteries

Younicos is now swapping out the lead-acid batteries at Notrees and replacing them with lithium-ion products, at an unspecified cost.

At SCE’s 8MW, 32MWh Tehachapi project, meanwhile, battery vendor issues struck before the plant had even broken ground.

SCE’s original choice of provider, A123 Systems, went out of business during the planning stages of the project, forcing the utility to source batteries from LG Chem instead.

Subsequent challenges with the project have partly arisen from difficulties in integrating the batteries with power conversion systems, which were provided by ABB.

Only one of the three projects reviewed, the 1.6MW, 4.7MWh Borrego Springs microgrid implemented by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), appears to have functioned satisfactorily from the outset.

Improving electricity provision

The project was developed to help improve electricity provision for a remote community and has since helped residents overcome weather-related blackouts.

SDG&E is currently expanding the microgrid with a connection to a 26MW solar plant.

Overall, though, “problems with the Notrees and Tehachapi projects illustrate that getting grid-scale energy storage right is a complex affair,” said the guide.

At the same time, the report concluded, the battery vendor difficulties seen by Duke and SCE “highlights the widely held wisdom of sticking to diversified, mainstream suppliers with strong balance sheets and track records.”

The guide is being released in advance of Energy Storage Update USA 2016, a two-day event in June focused on US utility-scale energy storage.

Progress across US markets to date

The event, in San Diego, USA, will review progress across US energy storage markets to date and features speakers from SCE, NEC Energy Solutions, Eos Energy Storage, Advanced Energy Economy, Kilpatrick Townsend and others.

“The conference will bring together key utilities, leading policy makers, technology providers and new major players,” said Iulia-Lorena Rus, industry analyst atEnergy Storage Update.

Agenda items include mapping the future of storage in the US energy mix, the role of utilities in achieving large-scale deployment, and project financing and securing venture capital.

The programme “will help you understand how you can drive down costs and increase your project pipeline to secure a greater stake in the US energy storage market,” Rus said.

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