Community Energy Storage Storage for Cleaner, Lower-Cost Electricity

April 25, 2016
NRDC’s Robin Roy explains why community energy storage has gained support from electric trade associations, environmental advocates, utilities and manufacturers.

Robin Roy, NRDC

More and more utilities, equipment manufacturers, and others are working to develop energy storage in households and businesses that can help make the electricity grid cleaner and cheaper. And many of these are eager to share their experiences and insights, as shown by the enthusiastic response to the “Community Storage Initiative,” which has already attracted a great group of founding supporters as announced today. More on that, below.

Energy storage can make the electricity system more flexible and ready to use renewable generation that has variable output, like wind and solar. Storage with advanced communication and controls can even offer the prospect of providing the grid with ‘ancillary services’ like frequency regulation and load following, reducing the need for power plants to quickly ramp up and down as total energy consumption changes during the day. The idea behind community storage is to coordinate the dispatch and optimization of premises-based energy storage resources, often on the customer’s side of the energy meter, to achieve electric system wide benefit.

Dedicated batteries and smart charging of electric vehicles are excellent examples of rapidly advancing storage technologies that sit on the customers’ side of the electricity meter. Another great example is grid-connected operation of the tens of millions of “hidden batteries” already in our homes in the form of water heaters.

(If you’re puzzled by the idea that tens of millions of hidden batteries are already out there, see my previous blogs here and here about how the humble water heater can be turned into effective and low-cost energy storage devices—all while keeping our showers hot. Grid-connected water heaters are electric water heaters with communication and control capability that allow utilities to use them as low-cost thermal batteries, heating the water when power is cheaper and cleaner, and deferring heating when power is expensive.)

NRDC, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and the Peak Load Management Alliance (PLMA) have been working together to explore advanced electric water heating technologies, and found enormous opportunities in both high efficiency “heat pump” water heaters and in grid-connected ones. (Heat pump water heaters work something like a refrigerator in reverse, collecting heat from air around the water heater and moving it into the tank.)

There are many energy efficiency policies and programs to help increase the take-up of heat pump water heaters, e.g., building on longstanding and highly successful utility energy efficiency programs, consumer awareness through ENERGY STAR labeling for energy efficient models, tax credits, and appliance efficiency standards. All of those make great sense to keep pushing, and should help increase heat pump water heaters reach their great potential for consumers and the environment.

However, the pathways for increasing all forms of energy storage opportunities in homes and commercial buildings, including using grid-interactive water heaters, are less well developed. Given the great economic and environmental potential for storage, but an absence of obvious venues for information exchange, NRDC joined with NRECA and PLMA in February as founding supporters of the Community Storage Initiative, and were promptly joined by the Edison Electric Institute and the American Public Power Association.

The Community Storage Initiative Vision Statement, and a definition of community storage, is:

Community Storage is an emerging term for utility-sponsored programs that aggregate distributed energy storage resources that are located throughout a community, such as water heaters, electric vehicles, and interconnected storage batteries, to improve the operational efficiency of electric energy services to consumers. The defining characteristic of a community storage program is the coordinated dispatch and optimization of premises-based energy storage resources, often behind a consumer’s energy meter, to achieve electric system wide benefit. The Community Storage Initiative (CSI) is focused on collaborative information sharing and coordinated market development efforts in support of wide-scale implementation of energy storage technologies that are commonly located in communities across the country. CSI is dedicated to bringing the economic, environmental and societal benefits of these storage technologies to end-use electric customers throughout the US.

The intent of the Community Storage Initiative is to encourage manufacturers, utilities, and other stakeholders to explore and exchange ideas and experience on energy storage opportunities using customers’ equipment. In the few weeks since we first announced the initiative, it has been great to see great enthusiasm and interest in sharing experiences. Today, the Community Storage Initiative is announcing its founding supporters, which represent utilities, technology developers and environmental advocates. We hope to add more supporters and more experience sharing until community storage reaches its full potential in delivering a more flexible, economic, renewables-ready, and cleaner electricity grid.

What’s next?

It’s clearly early days for delivering on the potential for energy storage at customer premises. We will be doing what we can to promote the exchange of ideas and experience in the full range or key areas, from technology to marketing to consumer incentives and pricing to whatever is needed.

If you’d like to join us, please visit the CSI website and get in touch.

This blog originally appeared on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s website. The author, Robin Roy, is the director of  NRDC’s Building Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Strategy, Energy & Transportation Program.

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About the Author

Kevin Normandeau | Publisher

Kevin is a veteran of the publishing industry having worked for brands like PC World, AOL, Network World, Data Center Knowledge and other business to business sites. He focuses on industry trends in the energy efficiency industry.