Austin Energy is looking holistically at how storage can serve customers and the grid across the city of Austin, Texas.

The Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar Photovoltaics (SHINES) program is harnessing utility-scale storage, distributed storage, smart inverters and data to help the local grid integrate more solar power. 

How is it going since it launched earlier in the year?

We sit down with Jackie Sargent, the general manager of Austin Energy, ahead of her participation in Energy Storage Summit (San Francisco, December 11-12) to discuss early lessons from the first phase of the program. 

"The value of experiencing these things firsthand cannot be overstated," explained Sargent.

Earlier this year, the project was recognized by GTM as one of the winners of the 2018 Grid Edge Innovation Awards.

GTM: Can you reflect on learnings so far from the SHINES program?

Jackie Sargent: This project presents an opportunity to study battery storage at three levels along the utility value chain: grid-scale, commercial-scale and residential-scale. Though Austin SHINES is still in the early stages, we’ve already learned a lot about the interconnection process of putting battery storage on the distribution system. From protection system coordination for inverter-based resources to selecting the right interconnection transformer windings, and from custom battery container design to environmental controls, the value of experiencing these things firsthand cannot be overstated. 

Regarding behind-the-meter (BTM) energy storage, it’s really about understanding customer value propositions. We have to ask ourselves what are the reasons a customer would want to install storage on their own and how will the proliferation of two-way resources at the grid edge impact distribution feeders. Which issues are hyper-local and which have broader grid implications? We’re eager to answer these questions as we move into future phases of the project.

We’ve also had the opportunity to help shape the permitting and inspection process for battery storage in Austin. We’re continuing to explore the intricacies of using the same battery storage capacity to provide value to the customer or to the utility depending on grid conditions and time of day, essentially sharing the battery storage and increasing the value it can provide.

Additionally, implementing a project as complex as Austin SHINES requires a tremendous amount of collaboration between Austin Energy and other governmental agencies, industry partners and the community. The opportunities certainly outweigh the challenges, and what the project team is developing, in coordination with our many project partners, is shaping up to be something very special. 

GTM: How is Austin Energy combining innovative tools like energy storage and DER controls with traditional utility assets?

Jackie Sargent: The Austin SHINES project is rooted in holistic integration of energy storage and solar PV, and that is not possible without the grid and DER controls.

We are using a distributed energy resource management system that controls, or operates, distributed energy resources like solar and storage in a way that creates the most value based on the capabilities and current conditions on the grid. That value may be from the market or based on reliability needs.

In both cases, the value may be realized by the utility, but the benefit is passed on to the customer, which is important to us as a community-owned electric utility. Using controls to realize the value of energy storage allows us to maintain reliable service that compensates for the intermittent nature of renewable resources. Additionally, we create a solid case for higher rates of renewable penetration. 

GTM: Municipal utilities can benefit greatly from energy storage, particularly when it comes to transmission and distribution deferrals. Has this been particularly impactful on Austin Energy’s infrastructure cost optimization so far?

Jackie Sargent: It’s still too early to tell what impact Austin SHINES will have on our infrastructure cost optimization. We’re looking forward to analyzing this as we gather more data and move into future phases of the project. Over the next year, we will begin evaluating the ability to use energy storage solutions coupled with PV solar to address transmission system congestion and hopefully be able to quantify or monetize the benefits. It’s our intent to take what we learn from SHINES and use it to plan and evaluate non-wires alternatives in the future. 

GTM: Austin Energy has been a pioneer in incentivizing electric-vehicle adoption. What are your thoughts on how EVs can become a form of storage capable of flowing power back into the energy system, contributing to a more reliable renewable-heavy grid?

Jackie Sargent: There is still a fair amount of technical feasibility to be considered, but electric vehicles represent a tremendous opportunity for energy storage. Using vehicles as storage assets can contribute to the reliability of our electric grid and provide an additional use for vehicles.

Once vehicle-to-grid technology matures, multiple energy storage capabilities will become available. In addition to stationary storage, we are also partnering with Pecan Street Inc. to conduct a vehicle-to-grid pilot. We’re using the lessons learned during Austin SHINES to build a framework for how technologies, such as electric vehicles, can interact with the electric grid. 

GTM: What is next for Austin Energy when it comes to energy storage system deployment and renewable integration?

Jackie Sargent: We are looking at how storage can contribute to renewable integration at several points in the energy delivery value stream. For the first time, we asked for storage projects to be included in the annual request for proposals for our utility-scale renewable projects.

Austin Energy has aggressive goals for furthering our renewable portfolio and integrating energy storage. By 2027, our goal is to use renewable energy to offset 65 percent of our customers’ energy consumption. Our storage goals include 10 megawatts of electric storage (i.e., batteries) and 30 megawatts of thermal storage. We hope the Austin SHINES project illuminates the path to reaching these goals and creates a roadmap for future storage deployments in our service territory.

Come to San Francisco on December 11-12 for Energy Storage Summit 2018 and join Austin Energy and other leading companies in storage development, including Duke Energy, Exelon, SCE, Microsoft, Fluence, LG, Con Edison, Southern Company, San Diego Gas & Electric, NYISO, Constellation, Shell New Energies, E.ON and many more.