State Invests in Backup Storage for Solar Power and Wind Energy Systems

Tom Johnson | March 24, 2015 | Energy & Environment
BPU awards more than a dozen grants to develop and demonstrate energy storage for renewables

Atlantic Co. Wind Farm
The state is funding more than a dozen projects to help make solar and wind power more reliable by providing backup energy-storage systems for the electricity they produce.

These first-ever awards by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities will give nearly $3 million to 13 projects scattered around the state, all of which will supply money to existing solar energy systems. The Atlantic County Utilities Authority grant also will be linked to the facility’s wind system, a familiar sight to tourists arriving at the casino resort.

Energy storage is widely viewed as crucial to promote the development of renewable energy — especially given the intermittent nature of solar and wind generation. The state’s has set a goal of having 22.5 percent of its electricity delivered from renewable energy sources by 2020, but some want it raised to 80 percent by 2050.

To state officials, the development of energy-storage systems is critical to keeping essential facilities operating even in extreme storms when large parts of the power grid shut down.

“As we all learned through superstorm Sandy, projects that improve resiliency at critical facilities are top priorities,’’ said BPU President Richard Mroz. “New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program now encourages islanded power systems at critical facilities that are otherwise consistent with the programs’ resiliency, environmental, and energy-production goals through a first-of-its kind energy storage incentive program.

[related]The islanded power-system concept is aimed at keeping such facilities operational –even if the much of the power grid shuts down as happened during Sandy. But the awards of money to the projects may not necessarily achieve that goal because the program is mostly viewed as a demonstration project to determine how well the battery storage systems work.

The award of the grants went mostly to schools, a municipal complex in Jersey City, and facilities that treat wastewater before discharging it into New Jersey’s waterways. Those facilities were crippled during Hurricane Sandy, discharging untreated sewage into the state’s waters.

While energy-storage systems are still their its early stages, the price for the systems is dropping rapidly even as the technology to build the storage grows more efficient.

“Probably in the next five years, you will see battery systems (that store the energy) incorporated with both solar and wind,’’ said Fred DeSanti, an energy lobbyist. “It’s absolutely vital.’’

Richard Dovey, executive director of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, agreed. His facility won a grant to build a storage battery to demonstrate its ability to keep solar and wind systems at the authority running, although not completely if the grid shuts down.

“This is the next important phase of renewable-energy development,’’ he said, “We have to demonstrate these batteries work together with renewable energy.’’

Under the BPU program, the incentives will support the installation of renewable electric-storage systems for the purpose of backing up power for essential services and offsetting peak loads by providing electricity during hours of higher demand.

A total of 22 applications were submitted to the BPU seeking more than $4.6 million in incentives, which were capped at whichever was less — $500,000 or 30 percent of project costs.