Engie North America has built a big portfolio of distributed energy projects across the U.S., ranging from more than 75 megawatts of behind-the-meter battery systems from Engie Storage (formerly Green Charge Networks), to the hundreds of megawatts of commercial solar projects in the works from the developer it acquired last year, SoCore Energy.
On Wednesday, Engie North America acquired Genbright, a startup with software it believes can unlock a much broader range of revenue streams for these distributed energy resources (DERs), by linking them into the multiple opportunities being opened in U.S. wholesale energy markets.
Genbright, founded in 2013, has built up a portfolio of more than 50 megawatts of solar, storage and demand response resources now using its proprietary wholesale market platform. Some showcase projects include a $3 million deployment of 200 Ice Energy load-shifting air conditioner units on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, a 1.5-megawatt/3-megawatt-hour behind-the-meter battery project with an unnamed commercial customer in Massachusetts, and a 5-megawatt/10-megawatt-hour front-of-meter battery being deployed in Maine.
Presumably some of Genbright’s portfolio involves Engie Storage as well, given that the company said Wednesday that it has been working with the Hingham, Mass.-based startup since 2017, to “unlock the full potential of energy storage by establishing the capability to deliver valuable competitive services into wholesale electricity markets.”
In a Thursday interview, Engie Storage CEO Chris Tilley declined to offer specifics about where the two companies are working together. But he did confirm that Genbright’s RAMP platform — its DER management and market optimization software — has been “fully incorporated into our GridSynergy system,” or Engie Storage’s own software platform for optimizing revenue streams across multiple markets.
He also said that the two companies are now deploying assets, with a particular focus on New England and Massachusetts. That’s because the region, and the state, are beginning to see true market opportunities for the kind of “stacked” revenue stream approach Genbright makes possible.
ISO New England and Massachusetts emerge as key markets
“There’s a lot of talk about being able to access wholesale markets for batteries, but in reality, it’s not been easy to do,” Tilley said, outside a few rare exceptions, such as Mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM’s frequency regulation market. But that’s set to change under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Order 841, passed last year, which directs the country’s grid operators to create new market mechanisms for batteries.
Different grid operators have taken different approaches to implementing FERC Order 841 — each with their own pros and cons in the view of the energy storage. But ISO New England, which operates the electric grid in six Northeastern states, is arguably the furthest ahead, with much of its compliance plan laid out in October, and approved by FERC in March.
While California remains the country's leading market for behind-the-meter and solar-linked storage, "in the Northeast, Massachusetts in particular has a number of factors, like California, that are really supportive of energy storage," Tilley said.
Beyond a statewide energy storage target of 1,000 megawatt-hours by 2025, the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, program approved by regulators last year, opens the door for battery-backed community solar and net-metered solar systems.
Meanwhile, ISO-NE's rapid moves to integrate energy storage into its markets have allowed Massachusetts projects to start tapping the values that unlocks, he said. In February, state regulators allowed SMART program solar-storage projects to bid into ISO-NE’s forward capacity program, which opened the door to Sunrun winning a 20-megawatt bid to be aggregated from about 5,000 small solar and battery installations in customer homes across the region.
On the backup generator front, Genbright has partnered with NRG Energy in Massachusetts to control them when they’re in standby mode, to earn revenues and pay for the cost of installation. That’s a similar offer being put forward by partnerships like that between Cummins and Tangent Energy, or bundled with solar and batteries for off-grid and industrial applications by companies like Caterpillar and Wärtsilä.
At the same time, Genbright has also been working on how to link storage and demand-side resources with intermittent solar in ways that can help better integrate them into the grid. In a September report, it highlighted how its portfolio of solar and demand response assets across Massachusetts “performed well” through a capacity shortfall event called by grid operator ISO New England — a type of capability that state regulators are set to require for new community solar projects under the SMART program.
Tilley laid out the long list of challenges for a would-be battery-backed community solar project under Massachusetts’ new program, and how Genbright and Engie can help solve them. Beyond the fundamentals of behind-the-meter solar-storage systems, like balancing federal Investment Tax Credit compliance, long-term battery life, and customer-facing uses like demand-charge management or price arbitrage, “we can register those assets into the wholesale market, bid into frequency regulation and other ancillary services, or bid into forward capacity markets,” he said.
Engie can also show would-be project financiers that these multiple revenue streams will pay out over the long run, “because we have a trading desk that can establish all that.”
This complete package, in his view, “is something no other vendor can offer.”
But it comes with a caveat: These capabilities can only be turned into revenue “as long as we have the rights to be able to do something with it in the wholesale market.”
The two companies’ sights are set beyond New England, Tilley added. Genbright is a market participant in PJM as well as ISO-NE, and a licensed energy broker in several U.S. states. But Engie North America, the competitive energy arm of French utility Engie, has its own trading desk in Houston to operate fleets of DERs in markets across the country.