Will New Solar Farm on Former Garbage Dump Show Potential of Energy Storage Batteries?

PSE&G’s Highland Park project is seen as exemplar of how New Jersey will move to clean energy, as envisaged by Murphy administration
Credit: PSE&G
PSE&G’s solar storage system in Highland Park

A new solar farm on a former garbage dump went into service this week in Highland Park, but this project also featured energy storage batteries, a key component of the Murphy administration’s ambitious plans to transition New Jersey to 100% clean energy.

The Highland Park Solar Storage System is the 35th overall solar project and the fifth solar storage system that the Public Service Electric & Gas utility has built. Is it a trend for the future?

“Unquestionably,’’ answered Lyle Rawlings, the president and CEO of Advanced Solar Products, the solar and storage system firm PSE&G hired to design, procure and build the system for Highland Park. “Inevitably, it’s the wave of the future. We don’t get to 50 percent (clean energy) by 2030, let alone the governor’s goal of 100 percent by 2050 without energy storage.”

Energy storage is a top priority in the administration’s clean-energy plan. By 2021, the state should develop 600 megawatts of energy storage in New Jersey, a goal unlikely to be met given the current pace of development of the technology. By 2030, the aim is for the state to have 2,000 megawatts of storage capacity.

The Highland Park storage system is part of a 3-megawatt carve-out in PSE&G’s Solar 4 All program, dedicated to developing projects that integrate solar with other technologies to reduce the impact of solar on the grid, or to increase reliability and grid resiliency for critical facilities during prolonged power outages.

Credit: PSE&G
Tesla energy storage batteries at the PSE&G solar storage system in Highland Park

The project combines a 1,764-panel, 650-kilowatt solar farm with 2,000-kilowatt Tesla batteries. Both are connected to the PSE&G grid. The solar system is expected to provide enough electricity to power about 100 homes and also charge the batteries, which are used to reduce voltage fluctuations typical to grid-connected solar systems, due to the intermittent nature of solar power.

A vital prototype

“This project does much more than just provide clean solar energy to our customers and reclaim 2 acres of landfill space,’’ said Karen Reif, PSE&G’s vice president of Renewables and Energy Solutions. “The information we gather from the Highland Park Solar Storage System also will enable better integration of renewable energy onto the electric grid in the future, allowing for even more solar energy projects in New Jersey.’’

Eventually, that will have to include stronger incentives for solar developers to incorporate storage systems into their projects, according to Rawlings. Investors will need a driver or incentive to push them to investing in projects, he said.

“We set these goals, but don’t have the will to meet them,’’ added Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

So far, PSE&G has invested in four other solar storage projects. A project in West Caldwell provides backup power to the community’s wastewater treatment plant. Another in Pennington keeps the local Department of Public Works building running in case of a prolonged outage. At Hopewell Valley Central High School, it allows the building to serve as a public warming or cooling system station during an extended power outage; and finally, it allows the Cooper University Hospital in Camden to provide backup power for refrigeration needed for medications.

PSE&G wants to get more involved in promoting energy storage. It has filed a proposal to invest $109 million to build an additional 35 megawatts of energy storage, which has yet to be acted on by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.