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New Utility Program Hopes to Stimulate Sustainable Energy Storage Growth

Alex Eller — February 17, 2017

There is considerable debate throughout the energy storage industry about what the optimal location is for energy storage systems (ESSs) to provide the most value. Systems can be installed either behind the meter (BTM) for individual customers, or located strategically on the utility side of the grid. While these two types of systems are typically designed for different purposes, the advances being made in storage software platforms are blurring the lines between these markets and the specific services they are able to provide. A recently proposed energy storage program from utility Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) is hoping to capture the most advantageous aspects of both approaches.

Although BTM energy storage has been a rapidly growing market over the past 2 years, a number of challenges remain that limit growth prospects. One of the major issues is that the value of an ESS varies considerably from one customer to another and across different regions. To realize a solid return on investment from energy storage, customers must have specific load profiles with enough variability to result in high demand charges and the willingness to invest in a relatively new technology. While opportunities to participate in competitive wholesale markets are often touted by vendors, actual revenue streams from these opportunities remain uncertain or entirely unavailable in many areas. As a result, excess storage capacity that could be used for participation in these markets is not built into projects, leaving economies of scale unrealized.

A New Approach

With its newly proposed energy storage program, Con Ed hopes to overcome many of the barriers facing BTM storage while also taking advantage of customer facilities to host new systems. Through this proposal, Con Ed will partner with developer GI Energy to deploy in front of the meter battery ESSs that will be located at customer sites. In exchange for hosting these systems, customers will be paid a set rate for leasing their space. This should make hosting storage a lucrative opportunity for a much greater number of customers, regardless of their energy usage patterns.

The utility believes this program will be able to realize much more value from a battery system compared to customers installing these systems on their own. By leveraging the utility’s support and third-party financing, Con Ed will be able to deploy much larger storage systems resulting in greater economies of scale. Additionally, these systems can be installed in select locations of the grid experiencing capacity constraints or other challenges to allow for the deferral of new infrastructure investments. These systems will also compete to provide services in wholesale markets when available, such as energy arbitrage, capacity, and frequency regulation. While a much greater array of values can be realized from these systems, the host customers still get what they are looking for—reduced energy costs.

Initially this program will seek to deploy four relatively large (1 MW) storage systems in select locations throughout Con Ed’s territory. However, if successful, this program could be expanded to all customers and potentially provide a framework for similar programs in other regions. There remains a number of details to be worked out through this program, including how exactly the systems and the services they provide will be paid for, how various services will be prioritized, and specifically how the utility will select which developers to work with. Despite the uncertainly around a few pieces of the program, Con Ed’s proposal is an innovative approach to stimulating sustainable energy storage market growth for the benefit of all stakeholders.

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