Solar Storage Pilot Could Increase Reliability During Extreme Storms

PSE&G solar system uses lithium ion batteries to deliver power to school if grid goes down

If the state is looking to enhance grid reliability during extreme storms, then a pilot project at Hopewell Valley Central High School might provide some clues on how it can be done.

The school district and Public Service Electric & Gas have completed a solar storage project that supplies electricity to the grid while allowing the school to function — at least temporarily — even in the face of widespread outages.

The project is the first of its kind by the state’s largest utility, which has won regulatory approval for a series of initiatives aimed at increasing the penetration of solar electricity in New Jersey.

The Christie administration also has pushed the state’s utilities to invest in new strategies to make the power grid more resilient. After Hurricane Sandy and other big storms left millions without power — some for a week or two at a time —averting those long outages has emerged as a top priority among policymakers and utility executives.

The Hopewell Valley Central High School pilot is one of three PSE&G is working on to ensure solar systems could continue operating, even if the rest of the power grid crashes as it largely did during Sandy.

New Jersey has plenty of solar systems providing electricity to homes and businesses, but most are not designed to keep operating as an “island’’ when the rest of the power grid fails.

The Hopewell system combines an 876-kilowatt solar array with large lithium ion batteries. The system comprises a rooftop array on the school and a solar canopy built on a school parking lot.

During normal operation, the system provides electricity to the grid for utility customers to use. In the event of an outage, the electricity from the panels charges the batteries that deliver emergency power to the school, allowing it to function as a community haven.

“With this Hopewell Valley Central High School project, we are now also showing how flexible solar can be when it is coupled with storage technology to help maintain grid reliability and serve as a vital source of power,’’ said Courtney McCormick, vice president of renewables for PSE&G.

Besides the Hopewell pilot, PSE&G is pairing similar storage technology with solar systems at Cooper Hospital in Camden and at a Caldwell wastewater treatment plant in West Caldwell, according to Todd Hranicka, director of solar energy for the utility.

“This is the first storage project for us,’’ Hranicka said of the Hopewell system, in place since last December. “It’s a learning experience.’’

The pilots are part of the utility’s Solar 4 All program, which has installed 115 megawatts of solar systems around the state on utility poles, parking lots, and landfills and brownfields.

The purpose of the pilots is to integrate solar with other technologies to reduce the impact that solar has on the grid and demonstrate how solar can help reliability and grid resiliency for critical facilities during prolonged power outages.

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