Imagine trying to manufacture and deliver gifts to all 2 million kids in New York City the exact moment they wake up on Christmas morning, without being able produce or store them anywhere ahead of time. You would either have to maintain toy-manufacturing plants on the roof of each home, or construct a supersonic delivery system with unlimited flexibility. The rest of the year, these plants and the high-end delivery system would sit idle until the next Christmas arrived.
If you’re thinking this scenario seems ridiculous and wildly inefficient, you’re right. So it’s surprising to learn that this is how the world thinks about and builds our current electric power infrastructure. This type of planning process was necessary ten years ago based on the state of the world, but today, advances in new technologies such as energy storage and demand response can fundamentally change this scenario.
It’s only fitting that New York, a trendsetter and world leader in everything from fashion to finance, has the ability to lead the nation in developing an efficient power system. Of late, our state has been faced with the potential shut down of Indian Point, which delivers up to 30 percent of the energy needed to meet peak demand in the City and surrounding suburbs. This has spurred conversations about how to replace that power and, if the decision is made to close it, if it’s possible to do so before the plant shutters.
On April 4th, Governor Cuomo and his Energy Highway Task Force hosted a summit at Columbia University to strategize on upgrading and modernizing New York’s energy infrastructure. On the agenda was the “energy highway,” a network to increase the amount of power flowing into the City. Importantly, Governor Cuomo has recognized that it is vital for energy storage, the “warehouse” for the power grid, to have a seat at the table in energy highway considerations. Here are a few reasons why:
Electricity is one of the only products remaining in the world that needs to be produced and consumed at the exact same moment. We do not treat energy like a traditional product (such as toys at Christmas time) because even if we were to produce it in mass quantities, as efficiently and cheaply as we could, it’s been nearly impossible to store on a large scale. That’s why we have needed “peaking” plants, or less efficient power plants that only run when demand runs high, ready at a moment’s notice to go to work during peak demand. The irony in the way this works is that some of the most efficient plants we have only run at 46 percent of their capacity today, or less than half of their total capability. When we take into account the addition of newer renewable sources like wind and solar, which deliver energy only when they are available, we begin to see an enormous opportunity for energy storage to bring efficiency and value to the system.
In the past few years we have discovered and are beginning to tap into the potential of efficient power plants and renewable energy through recent breakthroughs in storage and demand response. These technological advances have steadily matured to large-scale commercial tools available to reshape our nation’s energy infrastructure. They are the key to unlocking the value of existing assets– and meeting our society’s increasing demands for more energy without building new plants, expensive transmission lines and/or requiring water usage or air pollution permits.
Specific to Indian Point, experts have been proposing options to repower New York City. Most of them boil down to either building more power plants near the City, or building more transmission lines to accommodate bringing in power from upstate and beyond. Clearly each of these options has its own benefits and challenges; including the concern that it will not be possible to construct alternatives in a timely manner should the plant close. I’ll leave weighing the pros and cons of each to the planners and politicians. Regardless of your view on a particular option, what’s more often left out of the discussion altogether is the 1500 MW of unused capacity in the efficient natural gas power plants already built in the state.
By leveraging industry advances in battery technology (i.e. the same types of batteries now being used in electric vehicles – just on a much larger scale) as well as other emerging technologies, energy storage recycles energy already in the system– taking power generated from our most efficient sources (whether they are natural gas plants, wind turbines or solar farms running at full capacity), storing it, and then delivering it when needed. Energy storage has the ability to scale up or down to meet existing and future needs, it is modular, does not produce emissions and can be cited close to urban centers.
Large-scale energy storage has proven its success as an alternative to new peaking power plants and transmission line expansion through several commercial projects. Members of the NY-BEST) are developing and deploying energy storage products that are reshaping the landscape of some of the world’s most populous power markets. For example, AES Energy Storage, a subsidiary of the AES Corporation, with successful energy storage operations in New York and Chile, recently put a 32 MW energy storage project online in the PJM interconnection, the largest of its kind in the world, and has proposed a 400 MW project on Long Island.
Major U.S. companies, such as General Electric, have begun manufacturing energy storage technologies in New York State. The advancement of this industry is poised to both move us into a sustainable future, as well as create much-needed jobs to stimulate our economy and put people back to work.
But most importantly – energy storage technologies ensure that no existing resources are going to waste. Good news for us, our economy, environment and our energy supply.
William Acker is the Executive Director of NY-BEST.
The New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology (NY-BEST™) Consortium was announced in 2009 to position New York State as a global leader in energy storage technology including applications in transportation, grid storage, and power electronics. In January 2010, the consortium was incorporated as a New York not-for-profit corporation and in March 2010, the 50 organizing members met to elect their board of directors.