Greening the Grid: Utility-scale Energy Storage

Caption Image from The AES Corporation.

AES energy storage project in Johnson City, NY.

When electric utilities or companies declare that they will need new power capacity to keep up with the growing appetite for electricity, most people think of new power plants and transmission lines. But some companies are proposing something novel: grid energy storage systems. One such company, AES Energy Storage, is pioneering this emissions- and water-free technology. Utility-scale energy storage technology – which will no doubt be a much discussed cleantech topic in 2012 (and is already off to a quick start) – can help to green the grid by enhancing renewable energy’s role in meeting demand, particularly during peak electric consumption times of the day. It can also help to lower electricity rates for consumers.

Brian Perusse, Director of Business Development for AES Energy Storage, recently took time to tell us more about this innovative technology.

Below are some excerpts from the conversation. You can read the interview in its entirety here.

What is energy storage and how is it different than energy generation?

Energy storage is an emissions-free capacity resource that is fast, highly flexible, and always on and ready to provide power services to the grid. It is different from other energy generators as it uses the electric power grid as a “fuel” and can either deliver or withdraw power from the grid depending on what is needed and when it’s most valuable. The unique ability to both supply power and store power on command makes the grid more efficient and more reliable.

Describe AES’s energy storage technologies. How do they compare to other energy storage technologies?

AES Energy Storage delivers storage-as-a-service, eliminating the need for pilot testing, system integration work and technology selection risk. It is not possible to simply buy a battery today and just plug it into the grid, like you might a replacement cell phone battery. AES will perform all of the work necessary to permit, design, engineer, procure, construct and operate an energy storage facility to meet a specific need of the utility. More importantly, AES has developed a control platform that will optimize the performance of the energy storage system for each specific customer.

How did AES get into the energy storage business?

AES Corporation, the parent company of AES Energy Storage, is one of the largest power producers in the world and has a thirty-year history of being an innovator in the power sector. This started with the use of Circulating Fluidized Bed boilers and continued through the financing of advanced combined cycle gas turbine technology, new wind turbines and the latest thin-film solar technologies, such as cadmium telluride. AES Energy Storage was founded in 2007 to focus on the commercial development and operations of grid-scale energy storage. AES Energy Storage believes that energy storage is ready to play a key role in the clean-energy equation, providing an emissions-free, flexible power resource to improve the grid today and prepare for growing renewable generation in the future.

Does AES have energy storage projects/systems in operation?

We currently have 72 megawatts (MW) in commercial operation or construction and have a growing pipeline of over 500 MW of projects in near-term development. We currently operate commercial energy storage facilities in West Virginia, New York and Northern Chile. In developing our business, we have worked with leading power system operators including the New York ISO, PJM Interconnection, ERCOT in Texas, California ISO and SING in Chile. We are pleased to have recently announced the commercial operation of a 32 MW storage project participating in the PJM Interconnection, the largest regional transmission organization in the world.

How does energy storage fit into the traditional electricity market model in the United States?

Energy storage can fit into any number of market models and we have deployed commercial facilities that are being paid for power services the same as other generators providing the same services today. Going forward, we expect that larger facilities will be contracted under Power Purchase Agreements, just the same way that we see wind, solar and traditional power plants developed and procured.

Does energy storage compete with or compliment initiatives in renewable energy and efficiency? How so?

Emissions-free capacity complements renewable resources to help policy makers, utilities and ISOs achieve clean energy goals. By providing power to the system when it is most needed via an emissions-free process, advanced energy storage projects help to keep clean energy sources clean through their integration into the power grid.

What effect does electric storage have on electricity prices?

Energy storage essentially stores energy from the cheapest and most efficient resources and delivers it at a time when more expensive resources would traditionally be utilized. In addition to delivering cheaper energy than a peaking-gas plant, energy storage can provide a number of other benefits to the system, such as deferring transmission investments and reducing the risk of relying on any one-fuel commodity.

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