Two years ago, community energy storage (CES) was heralded as the most promising distributed storage market. The market subsequently stalled when demonstrations failed to take off. Originally, most utilities in the United States pared back on ambitious pilots due to high transaction cost. Although the business-to-business model of community-level systems was appealing, North American utilities struggled to secure permission from homeowners to install systems and transaction costs skyrocketed. System development for distribution transformers in North America was also costly, and this, combined with the high cost of customer engagement, killed all large-scale projects.
Now this model could be staging a comeback. Toronto Hydro, along with eCAMION Inc., the University of Toronto, and Dow Kokam LLC, recently installed a CES system at the Roding Arena and Community Centre in Toronto, Canada. The pilot project will allow Toronto Hydro to monitor the technology and will help validate its benefits to Toronto’s electrical grid. This system uses 250 kWh/500 kW Dow Kokam lithium polymer nickel manganese cobalt cells, along with thermal management and controls from eCAMION. The University of Toronto is managing the control, protection, and power management.
Small Is Beautiful
Situating storage near the customer provides several benefits. First, it allows a utility to correct power quality where it matters most – near the customer. Community storage can also help utilities maintain service during grid outages, at least for a few hours. Finally, CES gives the utility information about what is happening at the edge of the grid, which is an important management tool.
More interest is developing in Europe, where distribution system operators are experiencing difficulty with behind-the-meter solar PV and instability from intermittent renewables upstream. The United Kingdom is especially bullish, with several departments funding community storage.
Sharp Laboratories of Europe was awarded a grant of £396,541 ($661,858) from the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy & Climate Change to develop and scale up a new battery technology for residential energy storage and CES systems. Electrovaya began delivering systems to Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD) in the second quarter of 2014 as part of an order for 25 distributed and independent energy storage systems. The systems range in energy capacity from 12.5 kWh to over 80 kWh. SSEPD has a separate community storage demonstration with S&C Electric that consists of three 25 kWh lithium ion units on the low-voltage network.
Europe is emerging as a leader in community storage by launching small pilots to test and prove the concept, instead of ambitious 80-unit projects.