What’s in Store for Energy Storage, A Key Element of NJ’s Clean-Energy Future?

Tom Johnson | June 20, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Development of systems that capture and store power will be a necessary but long, complicated and expensive undertaking

ACUA's battery-storage system was the first to be financed in part through the state’s Clean Energy program.
If New Jersey converts to relying 100 percent on clean-energy sources such as solar and wind power, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind fails to blow?

Then energy storage kicks in, or so goes the theory. Systems capable of capturing and storing power will provide a necessary backstop to keep the electrons moving on the electric grid, the lights on in homes, and commerce humming.

But getting to that stage promises to be a long, complicated and expensive undertaking, according to a new analysis of energy storage in New Jersey by Rutgers University.

Few existing energy-storage systems currently are cost-effective, and hefty financial incentives may be needed to advance the technology to help achieve ambitious clean-energy goals set by a year-old law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy that requires the state to rely on clean energy for half its energy consumption by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.

Most of the energy storage today in New Jersey occurs at a 54-year-old facility in Warren County involving hydro-pump storage between a pair of reservoirs, not the type of facilities envisioned to sustain a clean-energy economy.

The analysis, mandated by the clean-energy law, aims to chart how New Jersey can attain 600 megawatts of energy capacity by 2021 and 2,000 MW by 2030, requirements in the Clean Energy Act.

A must-do

“Energy storage has to be an integral part of renewable energy,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It’s the one thing we have to do to move forward.’’

If New Jersey relies on the fastest growing battery technology — lithium ion batteries — it will need to provide financial incentives of between $140 million-$650 million, just for those facilities equipped with solar photovoltaic panels. Without tying in such renewable energy resources, the cost could rise to $430 million to $1 billion, according to the analysis.

Credit: Sabine Van Erp/Pixabay
Solar panels and energy-storage battery
Battery storage costs are dropping rapidly, the analysis found, but are not currently cost-effective for most applications that state policymakers are envisioning for the technology. Those include providing additional resiliency to critical facilities, such as hospitals, wastewater treatment plants, and senior housing where lengthy outages can have dire consequences when they occur. More than 90 wastewater treatment plants lost power during Hurricane Sandy, spewing billions of gallons of sewage into state waters.

Down the road, energy storage could help New Jersey realize a sustainable energy future by including grid stabilization for offshore-wind projects and electric vehicle charging stations — two big priorities the analysis suggests should be pursued. The state is expected to approve the construction of New Jersey’s first offshore-wind farms at a meeting of the Board of Public Utilities tomorrow.

In implementing the law’s energy storage targets, the study recommends the state set priorities for the deployment of resources. They should include determining whether achieving the target should be done with the least expenditure of funds and whether to experiment with different technologies.

Different options

The analysis also recommends pilot projects be created to study diverse energy-storage technologies as well as targeting the benefits they produce, such as lowering the need for distribution and transmission upgrades.

“Given New Jersey’s coastal vulnerabilities and its car-dependent economy, it makes sense to prioritize resiliency and EV (electric vehicle) applications,’’ the analysis found.

The state is under other mandates to increase EVs on New Jersey’s roads with a target of 330,000 vehicles by 2025, a goal difficult to achieve with initiatives to create more charging stations to allow refueling of vehicles.

The analysis concluded the state has the necessary tools to encourage wider deployments of energy storage. “As with any policy that has transformative aspirations, a key aim should be learning from experience, and adapting both means and ends as evidence accumulates.’’

Tittel agreed. “It’s not a quick fix. It’s going to take a long time,’’ he said.