State Looks to Energy Storage to Make Critical Facilities More Resilient

Tom Johnson | July 24, 2013 | Energy & Environment
By stockpiling renewable energy for a rainy day, new technology could keep hospitals, water-treatment plants up and running during outages

water treatment
The state yesterday began mapping out strategies to promote energy storage, a technology it hopes will make critical facilities like hospitals and water treatment plants more resilient if widespread outages occur again as they did with Hurricane Sandy.

It is a modest effort with only $2.5 million from New Jersey’s Clean Energy Fund targeted for the current fiscal year. But state official believe will jumpstart innovation in the sector and eventually lead to a sustainable industry — one that ultimately will not be reliant on ratepayer subsidies.

“The funds are designed to be incremental,’’ said Scott Hunter, renewable energy administrator of the Office of Clean Energy within the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. “We don’t want to make people rich with the first project and not come back for more funding.’’

Energy storage is still an emerging technology, but one viewed as critical in helping renewable energy sources, like solar and wind become more competitive with conventional ways of producing electricity. It also is crucial to making renewables more reliable, since the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow — and an intermittent source of energy poses problems for the power grid.

The idea is to store energy created by renewable sources so it can be used at other times when demand for electricity grows. Any energy storage projects approved by the state would be limited to renewables.

“This is a new initiative for us,’’ said Hunter. To flesh out the proposal the state has put together a stakeholders’ working group to develop a plan of action, the first meeting of which was held in Trenton yesterday.

While the agency has only allocated $2.5 million in funding for the projects in the current fiscal year, it hopes to devote between $5 million and $10 million to energy storage over the next four years, according to Charlie Garrison, a consultant to the Office of Clean Energy.

One of the priorities of the new initiative is to allocate funding to projects that can be completed in one year, a strategy motivated by past clean energy programs that have doled out more money than can be spent in a year. The result has been hundreds of millions of dollars — all raised from ratepayers on their energy bills –being siphoned off by the Legislature and Christie administration to plug holes in the state budget.

The other priority of the program is to focus on directing money to energy storage projects that will help critical facilities continue to operate — even if the traditional power grid experiences widespread outages. Hunter said that is a primary concern of BPU President Bob Hanna.

“The board’s priority is resiliency and allowing public facilities to operate when and if the grid goes does down,’’ Hunter told those at the first meeting of the working group at the state Department of Environmental Protection in Trenton.

The issue has been a driving force in reshaping clean energy policies since Hurricane Sandy. Earlier this year, the BPU decided to allocate up to $100 million in clean energy funds to promote the development of combined heat and power (CHP) plants, a way of producing electricity and simultaneously using the heat generated in the process to meet the power needs of hospitals and other facilities.

New Jersey also has aggressive goals to promote the development of renewable energy in the state, aiming to have at least 22.5 percent of its electricity produced from sources such as solar and wind by 2020. Environmentalists say developing energy storage technologies is crucial to achieving that goal.