The 3 keys to selecting the right utility energy storage. (Are you listening California?)

Tools

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently passed a mandate requiring the state's investor-owned utilities to reach an energy storage target totaling 1,325 MW by 2020 -- the first of its kind in the United States. Suddenly, California utilities found themselves shopping for a relatively new energy resource.

 

Like all customers, they need to find value. But with no precedent to follow, how should they proceed? I asked Ice Energy's Mike Hopkins to provide his viewpoint. Although not a comprehensive set of purchasing instructions, his three tips offer a helpful perspective. And one that applies to utilities everywhere, not just those in California. – Jesse Berst

 

By Mike Hopkins

 

1: Check references among utility customers

Finding a utility-proven solution is vital. Lab testing or even field testing is not enough. Look for utility deployments. There are proven solutions available.

 

Evaluate the track record of any bidders. What previous utility work have they done? What records of overall performance can they provide? If they conducted a pilot, was it successful? Did the technology roll out upon completion of the pilot? Why or why not?

 

There is no substitute for first-hand research. Talk with your utility counterparts and analyze their experiences.  

 

The DOE energy storage database is another excellent resource. It includes projects searchable by technology type, duration, region and other factors. For example, if thermal storage interests you, a tab takes you to a map showing all global deployments, and allows you to delve into sub-categories, such as cold or hot thermal storage. Within California, the California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA) provides policy and research resources.

 

2: Anticipate distributed architecture

Deploying 1,325 MW statewide will not take the form of a few large storage projects, even in metropolitan areas. Instead, energy storage must reflect the transformation taking place across the grid -- namely the move to distributed rather than centralized energy resources. By selecting an energy storage technology that lends itself to distributed deployment, utilities can make a choice today that prepares them for tomorrow.

 

Distributed energy storage can also allow utilities to share costs using local ownership or lease options that benefit local economies, whether within specific feeders or microgrids or even specific buildings. While you are at it, look for a system that builds local support and brings local benefits through use of the regional workforce to wire and install each unit.