The growth of energy storage, along with deployment of new technologies, is at the heart of the future of distributed power generation. That’s according to industry executives participating in POWER’s Distributed Energy Experience.
Woody Rubin, president of AES Distributed Energy, provided a keynote address on Oct. 20, talking about the rise of solar-plus-storage applications and community solar projects as part of his take on the state of the industry.
This year’s event, all virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, is the third conference about distributed energy hosted by POWER. The first conference was held in 2018; the first two events were held in Denver, Colorado, and were hailed as the largest distributed energy industry gatherings of their kind, focusing on the entire spectrum of decentralized power generation.
“The market has definitely improved,” said Rubin, noting a recovery in distributed energy projects is starting to take shape after the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Rubin said there have been some supply chain issues, along with labor shortages due to lockdown measures, but those are being resolved.
Rubin echoed comments from Kelly Speakes-Backman, CEO of the Energy Storage Association, who provided a keynote address to wrap up the event’s first day on Monday. She talked about “the value of storage for consumers,” including how storage provides for “stacking the full value of multiple services” for electricity customers. “It’s important for reliability and resiliency,” she said, noting it improves power quality and provides many ancillary services.
There’s still time to register for the conference, which enables access to all the event’s content.
Rubin discussed how distributed generation, specifically renewable energy, would be impacted by the upcoming presidential election. He said that “regulatory uncertainty” is among the most-pressing issues for power generators.
“We can’t sit here before the election and not talk about the policy uncertainty,” he said, contrasting the energy policies of the current Trump administration with what could be expected with a change at the White House. He noted that uncertainty exists about tariffs, federal investment in cleaner energy, and how the federal government will handle targets for carbon emissions reductions, and Dept. of Energy (DOE) funding for energy projects.
“It’s important who controls the Senate, and what happens with FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] nominees,” Rubin said. “A national target for a carbon-free grid would be very ambitious,” he said, noting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s climate plan calls for a 100% carbon-free electrical grid by 2035. Rubin said that will likely require “DOE funding, a loan guarantee program … big sources of funding for both innovative projects and applications, and new technology.”
Rubin’s comments came one day after the U.S. Energy Information Administration said consumption of renewable energy in the U.S. in 2019 grew for a fourth consecutive year, accounting for 11% of total U.S. energy consumption.
Nuclear for Distributed Generation
The 2020 Distributed Energy Experience began Monday with three summits, including a discussion of the use of small modular reactors (SMRs) and microreactors to power communities that might otherwise not have access to electricity. The session also touched on the use of nuclear power to energize military bases and other installations.
Executives during Monday’s conference sessions also talked about the financing of distributed generation projects, and how beneficial electrification is impacting the power industry.
Clint Medlock of Southern Nuclear Development, a division of Southern Co., led a panel discussion on the use of nuclear power for distributed generation. Medlock, in addition to his efforts at Southern, has worked with X-energy on that company’s development of its Xe-100 temperature gas-cooled pebble bed modular reactor.
The panel included Scott Rasmussen of NuScale Power, a group that recently received final approval of its SMR design from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “It’s an exciting time for NuScale and our industry as a whole as we look forward to deploying this technology,” Rasmussen said.
Medlock will lead another Distributed Energy Experience discussion about nuclear power—specifically microreactors—for distributed generation on Oct. 22. “This is a technology that can certainly transform distributed energy and provide access to power in areas that could not access it otherwise,” Medlock said.
Investment Continues Despite Pandemic
Speakes-Backman said the pandemic has caused 2020 projections for behind-the-meter storage installations to fall by at least 31%, with the residential market particularly impacted. She said there are legislative avenues for increasing federal investments in storage research and development and other programs, and also noted the DOE’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge.
“There is interest in storage to support power infrastructure and resilience,” she said.
Rubin said, “It’s great to see the advancement and the adoption by the industry of solar plus storage. We also are developing standalone storage applications. AES has more than a decade of history in storage, but it’s really only recently that we’ve seen solar plus storage take off.” He said utility-scale projects get most of the attention, but “we now are building at smaller scale, behind the meter.”
He continued: “Storage is enabling load shifting and peak shaving, a battery functioning as a peaker [plant]. In certain markets, we’re seeing storage help control ramp rate and integrate renewables into the grid.” He talked about an AES installation on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. “Our system in Hawaii is spending most of its time soaking up energy that could not go to the grid during the day, and then dispatching at night. It’s replacing a natural gas-fired peaker plant.”
Rubin said community solar is a fast-growing business for AES and many U.S. utilities. “We’ve got dozens of projects underway right now,” he said. “Where the regulation permits, it’s a very customer-friendly offering.” He noted that community solar allows a utility “to own more renewable assets than it normally would,” and provide renewable energy “to segments of the population that otherwise wouldn’t have access to contracting for renewables.”
Speakes-Backman in her Monday keynote said targets for energy storage deployment set by individual states are likely to continue to grow, with whatever level of federal government support, as local governments and utilities recognize the economic value of storage and other distributed generation technologies.
“Storage makes everything better,” she said.
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).