Welcome to the June Tech Buzz! This month, we’ll be looking at how batteries and energy storage are shaking up both industry and regulators, solar energy’s new milestone, and how mowing your lawn could fuel your trip to Bermuda.
Energy Storage Rules!
You wouldn’t think that batteries, pumped storage, flywheels, and the like are all that disruptive. As it turns out, the growing number and capacity is beginning to effect how the electricity industry works. According the EIA, batteries, pumped storage, and ‘other’ renewables make up 4% of US capacity, which includes 23 gigawatts (GW) from pumped storage, 540 MW from batteries, and 44 MW of utility-scale flywheels. For the past few years, a growing problem has centered on how energy storage project owners are supposed to get paid and how the regional transmission organizations (RTO) are supposed to treat them in the market place. After all, when wholesale electricity markets were set up in the 1990s, they did not anticipate the need to consider energy storage. And while most of the nation’s pumped storage capacity dates well before 2000, they have been treated like hydroelectric dams. But because batteries and flywheels are smaller and are being incorporated into designs for wind, solar, and natural gas generation projects, the specifics about how to incorporate that new feature in the generation landscape hasn’t been quite worked out.
That’s all changing. Back in November 2016 and then later in January, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proposed some rule changes to first remove “barriers to the participation of electric storage resources and distributed energy resource (DER) aggregations in the capacity, energy, and ancillary service markets” and then to clarify how they are to receive both cost and market revenue.
- Energy storage resources must be eligible under the RTO’s tariffs to provide all capacity, energy, and ancillary services that they are technically capable of providing;
- RTO bidding parameters must reflect and account for physical and operational characteristics of energy storage resources;
- Energy storage resources must be able to be dispatched and set wholesale market clearing prices as both a wholesale seller and a wholesale buyer;
- Minimum size requirement for energy storage resources must not exceed 100 kW;
- The price for an energy storage resource that stores and subsequently resells back into electric markets must be the locational marginal price paid to generators.
How is this shaking up the industry? As it turns out, energy storage technology is starting to become a valuable alternative to expensive power lines. Some major transmission projects, such as the 80 mile long I-5 Corridor project the Pacific Northwest and those in the crowded New York Metro Area by Consolidated Edison (ConEdison) and the New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG), are being shelved in favor of relying on distributed resources such as batteries to manage congestion and better control capacity during demand.
Utility Scale Solar Drops Below $1/Watt
A recent report released by GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows that utility scale solar PV panels dropped to 99¢/watt during this year’s first quarter. That’s down dramatically from $1.50/watt from just this past September, 2016.
The collapse in price comes as a boon to utilities interested in taking advantage of the Renewable Energy Tax Credit. Texas, for one, sees plans for up to 27 GW by 2031 But for American manufacturers, SolarWorld and Suniva, the cheap foreign-made panels are hurting them. German-owned SolarWorld Americas and Suniva have not only filed for bankruptcy but they are also filed a Section 201 trade action with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to combat the flood of Asian-made panels.
So how much does this mean for consumers? Perhaps a potential for some serious savings in the future. In May, Tucson Electric Power (TEP) announced it had signed a 20 year power purchase agreement with an affiliate of NextEra Energy Resources for $30/MWh —that’s 3¢/kWh.
Will Grass-o-line Fuel Future Planes?
Ah, the summer drudgery of mowing the lawn. The tiresome pacing back and forth under the scorching sun, pushing the growling beast along, ever on the alert for children, pets, sticks, toys, and rocks. Isn’t there some reward for this relentless tedium? Is there someway you can trade in your grass clippings for…airfare?
Possibly. Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium have developed a process that turns grass into biofuel. First the grass clippings must be treated to improve their biodegradability. Next, enriched bacteria feast on the grass to break down the sugars into lactic acid. The lactic acid is then converted in to caproic acid (also called Hexanoic acid) which is a fatty acid. It is a colorless, oily liquid smelling of cheese (or goats) and is used in food, drugs, and cosmetics. It can also be made into decane, which is a hydrocarbon that has been used as type of jet fuel. Currently, there is a lot interest in developing a bio-jet-fuel. The US Air Force’s Bio-Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (BSPK) project makes a biofuel that is blended 50-50 with petroleum jet fuel to work in unmodified engines.
Unfortunately, the Ghent project is very expensive and produces only a few drops of decane fuel, plus, engines would likely need to be modified.
Still, it’s a step. After all, the field is wide open and the sky’s the limit.