by Julian Spector
June 08, 2017

President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change isolated the U.S. diplomatically, but a chorus of more local jurisdictions quickly drowned out the president's speech with some logic of their own.

By now some nine states, 125 cities, 902 businesses and 183 colleges and universities have joined the We Are Still In movement, pledging their own allegiance to the carbon reduction goals set in Paris. Another group of 279 U.S. mayors did the same. These are all entities that the storage industry should be reaching out to immediately.

The popular resistance to Trump's withdrawal bears witness to the fact that climate change affects people locally, and that emissions come at the local level. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading voice in the climate movement, went so far as to say that cities, states and corporates acting together can meet or exceed the Obama administration goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

There are real benefits to pushing reforms nationally via federal action, but that route is no longer available. Even when President Barack Obama controlled the White House, a single stay from the Supreme Court froze implementation of the sweeping carbon regulations of the Clean Power Plan. Climate advocates didn't choose a federal impasse, but there are strategic benefits to decentralized action -- for one thing, it's much harder to stop.

Which brings us back to all those cities, states and companies. They are looking for cost-effective measures to implement locally that will reduce their carbon emissions. They should know about the roles energy storage can play in that mission, and not all of them are thinking about it as much as they could be.

A Bloomberg-backed study on how cities can deliver on the Paris promise makes only fleeting references to energy storage as a clean energy action item. Thirty cities have pledged to go 100 percent renewable, but only New York City has announced an energy storage target -- 100 megawatt-hours by 2020.

"With a city-based target, they are also directly responsible for building codes and siting regulations, deployment strategies and even local taxes -- and the city can also take steps to adapt all these rules and regulations to accelerate deployment," Matt Roberts, executive director of the Energy Storage Association, told me when NYC announced the target in September.

New York City also shows how local codes impact storage deployment. The fire department there has taken a cautious approach to lithium-ion technology, to avoid potential fire risks in the highly dense urban environment. That has resulted in a slow rate of deployment for this technology, which forms the backbone of almost all advanced storage systems. Even if cities don't decide to set a storage target, clarifying their municipal code regarding storage permitting makes it easier for private enterprise to carry out deployments.

City governments concerned about extreme weather events influenced by climate change could follow New England's playbook and try out solar-plus-storage microgrids to keep critical city operations running in a prolonged blackout, while providing shelter to residents who lose power.

States, too, have great power to influence the use of storage to aid the expansion of clean energy and offset more carbon-intensive grid operations. Of the state-level We Are Still In parties, only California and Oregon have set a storage procurement target. (Oregon's target law only asks utilities to install 5 megawatt-hours by 2020, hardly a challenge these days.) 

That leaves Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington with an action item to put on their legislative agendas.

The playbook recently has been to direct the state PUC to study the costs and benefits of storage on the grid, and then to set an appropriate target based on that analysis. Really, all a new adopter would need to do is repurpose the methodology from the Massachusetts State of Charge report and fill it in with local grid data; the conceptual work has already been done. Massachusetts decided to set an energy storage target at the end of 2016. 

As for the corporate entities, the easiest way to leverage storage for the climate would be to look at the model of commercial demand-charge management plus grid services, à la Stem or Advanced Microgrid Solutions. Trimming peak demand incrementally lessens the likelihood that utilities need to fire up peaking plants, which are often the dirtiest generators in terms of carbon emissions.

The economics of solar-plus-storage are steadily improving, although still out of reach for many corporate customers. Thermal storage can play a role for companies with a heavy HVAC load; Axiom Exergy sells a product for grocery store refrigeration, and companies like Ice Energy and Calmac can precool offices when demand for electricity is low. 

Storage is not the only solution to the problem of climate change (there is no a single solution to a challenge as thorny and intractable as this), and it won't necessarily make sense in every jurisdiction. But the conversations swirling in the aftermath of last week's speech largely missed the role energy storage could play, and it doesn't have to be that way.

Nevada ups the ante on storage policy

After several quiet weeks on the state-level storage policy front, Nevada's legislature cut through the calm like a Corvette convertible screeching through the desert to beat the evening rush at Circus Circus.

The legislature passed and Governor Brian Sandoval signed a bill instructing the PUC to evaluate the costs and benefits of storage and set a target, if appropriate, making Nevada the fourth state on track to have a storage target. As noted above, California, Oregon and Massachusetts already have storage targets in place or in the works. 

Sandoval also signed SB 145, which will set up an incentive program for storage installations between 100 kilowatts and 1,000 kilowatts, provided it benefits the grid by reducing peak demand, offsetting wires upgrades or increasing reliability. That text also declares, "It is the policy of this State to expand and accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles and supporting infrastructure throughout this State." The law contains a series of instructions on how to pursue that goal.

It's not often you see something truly new in the storage policy realm -- the playbook has been pretty extensively established by now. But Nevada broke the mold with its renewable portfolio standard update, which has passed the legislature but has not yet been signed by the governor. 

Besides raising the RPS to 40 percent renewables by 2030, AB 206 makes storage eligible for meeting that requirement, with a 2X modifier if it dispatches clean electricity at peak times or helps integrate renewable generation by providing ancillary services. The legislators are so eager to see more storage deployed, they've rewritten the law to count it as renewable generation.

You can't talk about energy storage in Nevada without recognizing the looming presence of Tesla's looming Gigafactory, which turns storage into a jobs and economic development issue. If the state can stimulate more of a storage market, that will put more of its citizens to work and increase state revenues. If it can model successful storage policy for other states, same deal.

One takeaway for the industry: When planning a new factory, maybe look beyond California to a new frontier that's eager for the employment and willing to change state policy to give it a boost. Greater geographic diversity gives more state capitals some skin in the game.

The Iron Horse is ready to ride

Tucson Electric Power christened a new battery system June 1, and this one is not a test.

The 10-megawatt/2.5-megawatt-hour Iron Horse Battery Energy Storage Project will perform frequency response and voltage control just like a conventional power plant, only faster. The system, located at the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park, also helps integrate a 2-megawatt solar plant. Greensmith worked with E.On to design and install the project. 

You might recall that just a couple weeks ago TEP unveiled a record-low solar-plus-storage PPA. The utility is getting its hands dirty with storage, and putting it to real grid use.

Nearby, Arizona Public Service has taken a more academic approach with its latest battery, studying it in a controlled manner to inform future battery deployments. But that company, too, has issued an RFP for a storage installation at Punkin Center to defer T&D infrastructure updates.

Sonnen: Solar shingles make a promising market for Australia, not so much for U.S.

German home storage specialist Sonnen teamed up this week with Australian tilemaker Bristile to sell battery systems in conjunction with that company's upcoming solar roof product. They're specifically targeting the hot Australian market -- and appear to be well positioned to beat Tesla to the punch.

The announcement didn't mention any plans for the U.S. market, where Sonnen has been competing with Tesla's Powerwall, so I checked in with Olaf Lohr, Sonnen head of U.S. business development. He said the partnership has potential for the U.S. solar-plus-storage market down the road, but right now the focus is more on Australia.

"The U.S. market operates quite a bit differently than in Australia, so we don’t expect to see solar shingles replacing, or even competing with the high-output full-size PV panels, which are a great fit for the energy-hungry retrofit markets like California, Nevada and Arizona," he wrote in an email.

Solar shingles could play a role in special cases, he added, like homes that don't support or need large panels, or new construction where they can be designed in from the beginning. 

"Functionality aside, Tesla’s capacity problems have resulted in their solar roofs being sold out until 2018," Lohr said. "A partnership with a roofing manufacturer like Bristile, which possesses the proven ability to produce tiles on a large scale every day, will help Sonnen scale up quickly to meet demand."

Bonus reading: Prince and the Powerhouse

When you walk into solar loan provider Mosaic's Oakland office, a bold purple portrait adorns the reception room. The late musician Prince anonymously funded the company early on, when it was getting started as a crowdfunding platform. Bloomberg tells the story of how Prince helped kick off that company in a way that led to the creation of Oakland clean energy incubator Powerhouse.