Microgrids Could Help California Improve Grid Resilience In Face Of Wildfire Threat

on October 17, 2019

More than 1 million Californians were without electricity during the largest public safety power shutoffs in state history. The shutoffs were implemented during the second week of October by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) over its vast service territory, one of the largest in the United States. Already facing bankruptcy as a result of claims from major wildfires that occurred over the past two years, the utility was being proactive in moving forward with an aggressive approach to public safety.

Weather forecasts showed good probability of major wind storms. These forecasts, coupled with the dry landscape of California at this time of year (due to lack of summer rains), meant the move to implement shutoffs could be viewed as prudent. Nevertheless, the shutoffs exposed the lack of grid resilience in a state that prides itself in cutting-edge technologies and digital innovation. Although Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed more than 20 bills to address the wildfire threat, the insolvency of PG&E and related issues, California remains at risk for future shutoffs and wildfires.

Solutions are multifaceted. Although the shutoffs led to quick sales of backup fossil generators for many households and retail businesses, this trend is troubling. Increasing reliance on such small-scale power and largely unregulated sources could jeopardize California’s aggressive clean energy and carbon reduction mandates, recently increased to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. If such shutoffs occur with increasing frequency, California’s legacy as a leader in deploying cutting-edge sustainable energy solutions also may be questioned.

Microgrids as a potential solution
In addition to digital grid automation investments and shutoff policies, perhaps a better solution is microgrids. Utilities such as PG&E are moving forward in partnership with community choice aggregation programs to develop such resiliency-based systems in Humboldt County, supporting a local airport. Clearly, the state needs a more comprehensive strategy to deploy microgrids more broadly, with greater regulatory clarity on the role for utilities, the private sector and local governments. Of particular concern are critical facilities, including first responders to wildfires and other vital infrastructure services, such as clean drinking water.

A recent analysis (PDF) performed by Navigant, a Guidehouse company, for the California Energy Commission (CEC) found that a primary barrier to deployment of microgrids is interconnection practices with host distribution utilities.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsMicrogrids Could Help California Improve Grid Resilience In Face Of Wildfire Threat

Case Study: Using Batteries To Reduce The Impact Of Grid Maintenance

on October 17, 2019

We consume more and more electricity every day. The utilities and grid distribution operators must ensure industry and households are provided with the necessary connections. In order to do that, the grid must be expanded, and must be maintained periodically. This means that more often the power on the grid will be cut off while the necessary works are undertaken.

How is this currently done?
Today, when the grid is being maintained, the power is cut off at the transformer where the maintenance is done.

Nowadays, it is not possible to do any business or run a household without having power available; that is why also during this time of maintainance, a solution has to be found.

It’s all about efficiency
Traditionally, the energy demand for these periods has been supplied by diesel- fuelled generators. To absorb the peak demands of the grid and to prevent power loss, an oversized setup of generators is used to guarantee a consistent flow of energy.

Research from multiple festivals, where a lot of diesel generators are used, show that the average load was 12%, while the generators are the most efficient between 60% and 80% of their maximum engine power output. See Figure 1 for the energy data of a four-day festival and the average power output of the diesel generator.

The inefficient use of generators means that a great deal of diesel is being burned unnecessarily. These emissions contribute to climate change and poor air quality in cities.

Moreover, we see that more and more buildings have solar panels on their rooftops. A diesel generator cannot cope with current coming back on its output side. This means that when the load on the grid is smaller than what the solar panels in this area are producing, this energy has to be (quite literally) burnt away in big heaters. Which naturally is, again, a waste of energy and is not helping in our efforts to tackle climate change.

Also, these diesel generators produce quite some noise. This can be quite irritating to inhabitants when this solution is applied next to their bedroom.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsCase Study: Using Batteries To Reduce The Impact Of Grid Maintenance

COLUMN-The Battery Metal No One Wants To Talk About: Andy Home

on October 17, 2019

LONDON, Oct 17 (Reuters) – It accounts for around 75% of all rechargeable energy storage around the world.

It is in just about every car and truck, regardless of whether the vehicle has an internal-combustion engine, uses hybrid technology or is pure electric.

Its proven reliability makes it the metal of choice for energy back-up services in hospitals, telephone exchanges, emergency services and public buildings.

It is one of the most recycled materials in the modern world, more so than glass or paper, with the United States and Europe boasting near 100% recycling rates.

Yet it is largely absent from any discussion of battery materials in the coming electric vehicle and energy storage revolutions.

Welcome to lead.


The lead-acid battery was invented in 1859 by a French physicist, Gaston Plante. While plenty of other scientists were experimenting with electrical storage in the middle of the 19th century, Plante’s breakthrough was to create a battery that could be recharged.

The lead-acid battery was quickly adopted by the newly emerging automotive sector, which at the time was experimenting with both internal-combustion and electric propulsion systems.

Although the industry plumped for internal combustion, lead-acid batteries became the power source of choice for starting, lighting and ignition (SLI) functions.

And they still are.

Even most pure electric vehicles use lead-acid batteries for SLI purposes as well as newer functions such as electronic door-locking and in-car entertainment.

Technical innovation of the lead-acid battery has been incremental rather than revolutionary over the last century, but that’s started to change with a new generation of more powerful batteries produced to meet the tougher demands of stop-start engine technology.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsCOLUMN-The Battery Metal No One Wants To Talk About: Andy Home

Scientists Simplify Lithium-Sulfur Battery Production To Meet Future Energy Storage Needs

on October 16, 2019

Singapore scientists from NanoBio Lab (NBL) of A*STAR have developed a novel approach to prepare next-generation lithium-sulfur cathodes, which simplifies the typically time-consuming and complicated process for producing them. This represents a promising step towards the commercialization of lithium-sulfur batteries, and addresses industry’s need for a practical approach towards scaling up the production of new materials that improve battery performance.

While the lithium-ion battery is widely recognized as an advanced technology that can efficiently power modern communication devices, it has drawbacks such as limited storage capacity and safety issues due to its inherent electrochemical instability. This is set to change with a new simplified technique developed by NBL’s team of researchers, in the development of lithium-sulfur cathodes from inexpensive commercially available materials. Sulfur’s high theoretical energy density, low cost and abundance contribute to the popularity of lithium-sulfur battery systems as a potential replacement for lithium-ion batteries.

Theoretically, lithium-sulfur batteries are capable of storing up to 10 times more energy than lithium-ion ones, but to date are unable to sustain this over repeated charging and discharging of the battery. NBL’s lithium-sulfur cathode demonstrated excellent specific capacity of up to 1,220 mAh/g, which means that 1 gram of this material could store a charge of 1,220 mAh. In contrast, a typical lithium-ion cathode has a specific energy capacity of 140 mAh/g. In addition, NBL’s cathode could maintain its high capacity over 200 charging cycles with minimal loss in performance. Key to this was NBL’s unique two-step approach of preparing the cathode.

By first building the carbon host before adding the sulfur source, the researchers obtained a 3-D interconnected porous nanomaterial. This approach prevents NBL’s carbon scaffold from collapsing when the battery is charged, unlike those of conventionally prepared cathodes. The latter collapses during the initial charge and discharge cycle, resulting in a structural change. As such, the conventional cathodes become highly dense and compact with a lower surface area and smaller pores, resulting in lower battery performance than NBL’s carbon scaffold. In fact, NBL’s cathode offered 48% higher specific capacity and 26% less capacity fade than conventionally prepared sulfur cathodes. When more sulfur was added to the material, NBL’s cathode achieved a high practical areal capacity of 4 mAh per cm2.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsScientists Simplify Lithium-Sulfur Battery Production To Meet Future Energy Storage Needs

UK Aims To Simplify Energy Storage Planning

on October 16, 2019

The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published proposals that would mean utility-scale energy storage projects are processed via local planning.

Usually energy storage projects above a certain size threshold have to proceed via the National Planning Regime, similar to other power projects at present.

The national planning process has significant costs associated with it and can take 18-24 months, while energy storage projects are typically “relatively unobtrusive and established technologies”, according to the Renewable Energy Association (REA).

The REA has campaigned to raise the threshold above the current 50MW level. The group said details will need to be assessed via the consultation process and appropriate planning conditions applied.

The proposals apply to all energy storage technologies excluding pumped hydro energy storage projects, due to their significant size.

REA policy head Frank Gordon said: “In this consultation the government is recognising the value that energy storage can bring to the electricity system and are making a major step towards a more flexible network in the future.

“At present most energy storage project planning applications are sized at or around 49.9MW in England where the 50MW threshold is in place, but in Wales where the threshold is much higher, they vary in size usually at around 70MW.

“This shows the major impact the planning system threshold is having on projects.”

Solar Trade Association chief executive Chris Hewett said: “We are pleased to see that the government has taken our feedback on board.

“This is a promising step forward for enabling energy storage to be connected more swiftly, and giving local communities a stronger voice in determining which developments are right for them.

“Energy storage is safe, low-impact, and essential for delivering on the UK’s legally binding Net Zero commitments.”

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsUK Aims To Simplify Energy Storage Planning

Maryland Camp Goes Green, Gets Quick ROI with Microgrid

on October 16, 2019

A summer camp in Frederick, Maryland is operating a campus microgrid that leverages Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) to achieve an immediate return on investment while delivering green energy.

The net zero carbon microgrid serves Bar-T Mountainside Summer Camp, a 115-acre campus that offers after-school childcare, summer day camps, outdoor education and corporate team building and events.

The microgrid project stands out as the first commercial and industrial facility in Frederick County to employ PACE, a program that allows property owners to finance the up-front cost of energy projects and pay the costs back over time with their property taxes.

“It was designed to be cash-flow positive on day one — savings are greater than the PACE debt service. Thus, the system delivers 100% green power, resiliency and ‘savings as-a-service’,” said Brent Hollenbeck, founder and CTO of TimberRock Advanced Energy, which leads the project.

The system is designed to produce energy savings, energy resilience and new opportunities to generate revenues via market arbitrage.

Campus microgrid delivers 100% green energy

Bar-T’s microgrid has roughly 100 kW of PV across the facility’s various roof tops. Three separate distributed battery systems collectively provide about 35 kWh of energy storage capacity, according to TimberRock.

All of the PV arrays are islandable and capable of operating independently during grid outages.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsMaryland Camp Goes Green, Gets Quick ROI with Microgrid

The Search For The Best Battery Storage Methods Continues

on October 15, 2019

Nowadays, you may take batteries for granted, perhaps not thinking twice about just how useful they are, as they’ve always been a part of your life. The evolution of batteries has been monumental. So much so that this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry was jointly awarded to three scientists who invented our modern-day lithium-ion batteries.

However, as time passes, most inventions need to keep up and be updated. The search for the batteries of the future has started.

When the words “renewable energy” are uttered, your mind may automatically jump to solar panels, electric cars, and wind turbines. However, the actual batteries that run and store energy for these electric cars; for example, most likely do not come to mind.

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany is already working hard on discovering new methods for storing energy for future use. Storage plays a massive role in the world of sustainable batteries and their production.

At the moment, sustainable batteries come in the form of lithium-ion batteries, which power many devices, from our mobile phones and laptops to e-bikes. And in order for these types of batteries to function, lithium and cobalt are needed.

However, the day has now come when scientists are questioning the fair production of lithium-ion batteries. Furthermore, their disposal is an issue for many, with higher risks and problems associated with the current methods used.

Ultimately, the questions of how efficient these batteries are, and what new storage methods are being built around them are being posed. Questions that the KIT lecturers and researchers are attempting to answer.

There have already been attempts at creating alternative battery options — for instance, saltwater batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and post-lithium technologies. But, there’s been little focus on how these future batteries would be efficiently stored.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsThe Search For The Best Battery Storage Methods Continues

Are Concrete Blocks the Next Batteries?

on October 15, 2019

In August 2019, the Japanese multinational holding firm SoftBank invested $110 million in Swiss company Energy Vault. It was a major boon for the company, which has a somewhat unique take on renewables: It stores potential energy through the use of stacked concrete blocks. Energy Vault will use the investment to build its first two full-scale models in Italy and India.

Energy Vault is only two years old, but has earned its investment through growing interest in energy storage. As renewables rise in use and their prices drop, energy storage is becoming increasingly crucial. Left to their own devices, energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines don’t run forever; solar panels can only produce electricity when the sun’s out, for example, while wind turbines only turn when there’s wind.

Enter storage methods like Energy Vault.

When solar panels in a field in Rome, for example, begin producing energy, they would siphon part of that energy off to a storage facility like Energy Vault. With that energy stored, the company could then run the energy when there was no wind or a cloudy day.

There are many ideas for renewable energy batteries. Energy Vault’s consists of an almost 400-foot tall, six-armed crane with custom-built concrete blocks weighing almost 35 metric tons each. As solar or wind energy is siphoned into an Energy Vault tower, an A.I. directs the concrete blocks to rise up. Then, according to the company’s website, the blocks are “returned to the ground and the kinetic energy generated from the falling brick is turned back into electricity.”

That kinetic energy then turns a motor, which passes through an inverter, sending the energy back into the grid. Energy Vault claims the process had a “round-trip efficiency between 80 to 90 [percent].”

Energy Vault says its tower design means it can scale up or down easily, based on a location’s needs. The company’s website discusses options of 20, 35, and 80 MWh storage capacity as well as anywhere between 4 to 8 MW of continuous power discharge for 8 to 16 hours. What drew investors to the idea in August was its simplicity.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsAre Concrete Blocks the Next Batteries?

Duke Energy to Build Its First Large Battery in South Carolina

on October 15, 2019

Duke Energy has promised major investment in energy storage for its Carolina territory. It took another step toward substantiating that promise by designing a battery project to back up a South Carolina community center.

The 5-megawatt/5-megawatt-hour project, announced Monday, does not stand out among the much larger projects underway elsewhere in the country. Its significance lies instead in illustrating how a regulated utility builds up proficiency in battery storage. Many utilities now acknowledge storage will provide great value to the grid, but few have built it at scale.

The first step is accepting the body of evidence that quantifies the usefulness of storage for things like renewables integration, deferring wires infrastructure upgrades, delivering peak capacity and rapidly modulating frequency and power quality.

Duke took that step in a big way, deciding in its 15-year resource plan that 300 megawatts of storage, and possibly even more, would benefit customers. The public has little recognition of megawatt capacity, but the company helpfully translated that into a rough estimate of cold, hard cash: $500 million.

That would be quite a jump from the kilowatt-scale test projects Duke has actually completed in its Carolina service territory. But the utility has been pushing forward incrementally, winning regulatory approval for a 4-megawatt battery to power a solar microgrid in the remote western mountains of North Carolina and a 9-megawatt system to improve grid reliability in Asheville.

“We are also strategically making energy storage investments where they can deliver value for grid operations and as backup power for critical services provided in our communities,” Duke Energy spokesperson Ryan Mosier said in an email Monday.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsDuke Energy to Build Its First Large Battery in South Carolina

It’s Dark in California But The Message Is Clear: More Microgrids Needed

on October 14, 2019

California is the poster child for microgrids, usually in a good way, this week in a bad way.

The power outages to 738,000 electric customers illustrated that even California, one of the lead states deploying microgrids, is not building them quickly enough. Microgrids act as local islands of power when the central grid fails, or in this case when power is intentionally shut down as a safety precaution.

Some Californians had access to microgrids when the outage struck; most did not.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) began shutting off power Wednesday under threat of high winds. The utility was concerned that downed power lines would spark fires that would quickly spread in windy conditions. In bankruptcy over earlier wildfires that resulted in loss of life, the utility was taking no chances.

Press reports described chaos as a big swath of the world’s fifth largest economy this week found itself without an essential resource.

The chaos of power outages

Car accidents increased as drivers tried to navigate without traffic lights. Stores lost perishable inventory. Those who require medical devices for their health counted the hours before they could no longer manage without them. Schools closed. Workers were sidelined without the Internet.

People were angry. The governor was angry. Economists warned that the cost to the California economy could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, or even “a cool billion.”

The Los Angeles Times described the power outage as “humiliating.”

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsIt’s Dark in California But The Message Is Clear: More Microgrids Needed