Massachusetts Tackles “Holy Grail” of Energy Storage

Massachusetts Tackles Holy Grail of Energy Storage

In the last several months, Massachusetts has announced a $10 million storage initiative, issued an RFP for a study of storages potential in the state, and named energy storage expert Judith Judson as Commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources (DOER), making it clear that the Commonwealth considers storage a foundational part of its grid modernization efforts over the next decade.

These efforts include orders to optimize demand, reduce system and customer costs, reduce the frequency of and effect of power outages, and integrate more distributed renewables into the grid (more on the states summer of storage here). Battery storage has the capability to fulfill all of these purposes and facilitate the transformation of the electric grid to a modern, greener, more reliable system.

To facilitate learning and dialog around the opportunities and regulatory challenges of storage, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) organized a stakeholder conference on energy storage on July 9. DPU commissioners and staff were joined by colleagues from DOER and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to hear about the current state of the industry and barriers to growth as the state solicits proposals to promote storage.

The conference featured panelists from utilities, battery-technology companies, energy producers, solar companies, and other industry professionals. Some provided previews of experimental battery technologies, such as vanadium redox or liquid metal. Some were storage providers or energy companies touting recently-completed commercial projects.

One common theme was a desire for a stable regulatory structure that would allow for monetization of the many functions of storage so that all involved can be compensated fairly. Once that happens, all the pieces of a burgeoning regional storage industry will be in place.

Storage Key to Grid of the Future

For the last 100 years, electric utilities have planned their infrastructure investments to ensure meeting peak loads, which are reached for just a few days and hours each year. Expensive natural gas or oil peaking plants, which are seldom used but built just in case, are seen as the cost of doing business and are paid for by ratepayers even though most of the time they sit idle.

New England has over 31 GW of contracted power capacity, but in 2013 electricity demand rarely exceeded 22 GW. With projected energy efficiency, total electric loads are projected to remain flat, but peak demand will still rise, which would ordinarily mean more expensive generation and higher electric rates. Deployment of large-scale energy storage has the potential to break this cycle of increasing infrastructure needs necessitating increased rates. The price of lithium, a key component of many batteries, has fallen 14 percent per year since 2007, and is forecast to keep falling for the foreseeable future as recent technology breakthroughs enter the marketplace.


Smart Grid Bulletin February 2019

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