The good news in New England is that the trend is toward using lower-carbon fuels. The bad news is that grid managers are operating on thin margins and may have to rely on costlier measures to maintain grid reliability. What role will energy storage and microgrids have during this period?
The New England Independent System Operator, ISO-NE, says in its 2019 Regional Electricity Outlook that its challenges are to integrate greater levels of renewables onto the grid while also maintaining a robust transmission system and energy security. Some of the issues to overcome are bringing battery storage to market while dealing with stricter air emissions rules that can limit the use of conventional infrastructure.
While battery storage may be a challenge, it is also an opportunity: In the past, New England has benefited from two pumped-hydro facilities that have supplied nearly 2,000 MW of capacity within 10 minutes. But today, the report goes on to say, the region has 20 MW of grid-scale battery storage, and it has another 1,300 MW on the table, which could come on line by 2022.
Energy storage can help maintain balance and frequency control while providing back-up power during electricity outages for a few hours at a time. And those devices can also enable the development of microgrids, which typically have some combination of localized generation and battery storage. While the ultimate goal is to ensure reliability, batteries do need to be charged and if they are needed during an outage, they may actually end up draining energy from the grid. (Editors Note: This is where a microgrid can come into play. Unaffected by the grid outage, its on-site generators continue to operate, energizing the microgrid’s customers or batteries — whichever is the priority at the time.)