Navigant Research Blog

How Solar PV Plus Storage Fits into Corporate Energy Management Strategies

— May 12, 2017

The electric power industry is now facing a fundamental shift toward a more decentralized grid, known as the Energy Cloud. As highlighted in a previous two-part blog series, technology and financing innovations sit at the heart of this shift as key enabling factors that are driving business model innovation and customer choice. For years, corporate commercial and industrial (C&I) energy and sustainability managers had no say about the price and type of electricity they used. Now, these same managers are choosing to apply new technology and business model innovations to meet their sustainability needs. These new customer needs can be categorized into the following important trends:

Fortune 500 C&I utility customers are seeking cost-effective, customized, and comprehensive energy solutions that can meet these evolving needs without capital expenditures or impact to their day-to-day operations. And the market is just now beginning to respond in a turnkey, comprehensive way.

Navigant Research will highlight how these solutions are being brought to the marketplace to meet Fortune 500 customer needs in an upcoming report titled Energy as a Service, which is scheduled for release in 2017.

Distributed Solar PV Joins the Solutions Table

Given these evolutions, it is now clear that distributed solar PV plus energy storage is starting to take a seat at the table as an integrated component of the solution set that Fortune 500 C&I customers are seeking. The drivers for the development of distributed solar PV plus energy storage markets are highlighted in Navigant Research’s recently released report titled Distributed Solar PV Plus Energy Storage Systems.

For example, Sharp now offers solar PV plus energy storage financing. And Macy’s recently announced another series of solar PV installations, several of which included integrated solar PV plus energy storage. The advantage that a solar PV plus energy storage installation can provide is twofold: a solar PV system can produce energy for use onsite at a per-kWh rate that is lower than the local utility rate, while an energy storage system can guarantee the type of tariff-specific demand charge savings that solar PV alone cannot deliver. Both the Sharp and Macy’s announcements are key examples of technology and financing innovation being deployed to meet the needs of C&I corporate energy and sustainability managers.


Innovative Pumped Storage Proposals Reveal Complex Costs and Benefits

— April 14, 2017

A number of new pumped hydro energy storage projects have been announced over the past several months that aim to use abandoned mine shafts and tunnels to store vast amounts of energy. Newly proposed projects in both Virginia and Germany now join projects being developed in New York and Wales, with the goal of being the first to reuse decommissioned mining sites. Ranging in capacity from 100 MW to 250 MW, these projects are relatively small compared to many existing pumped storage plants and require more creative design and engineering to capitalize on the existing mine infrastructure. While there are several potential benefits to using existing mine facilities, these projects all face significant challenges and risks.

Seeking Advantages

The most widely deployed form of energy storage globally, pumped storage is a mature technology capable of providing massive amounts of energy storage capacity on the grid. However, the development of new projects has remained challenging due to the need for specific sites with the correct geological and geographic characteristics, lengthy and complex development processes, and environmental impact concerns. By using existing mine shafts rather than building new reservoirs, developers hope to overcome many of these issues.

Projects using abandoned mines do not need to find suitable locations for development, as much of the infrastructure needed for the project—namely mine shafts that can serve as reservoirs and grid connections—may already be in place. This should also help developers avoid permitting and land use issues, as well as opposition from local residential areas that is common with new greenfield pumped storage proposals. Overall, developers believe that the cost to build these projects will be considerably lower than that for traditional pumped storage facilities as a result of the reduced need for major construction and fewer permitting hurdles. Furthermore, developers claim that these projects can significantly boost the economy in surrounding communities, a particularly important consideration in rural areas where mines have closed and reduced employment.

Challenges to Overcome

As with all pumped storage projects, these new proposals face significant challenges. In addition to concerns around the environmental impact of such large projects, the length of time required to commission these systems and the related complexity have been major issues. This is partially due to the need for financial arrangements covering the cost to build, own, and operate such large and costly systems. There are additional challenges facing projects at existing mine facilities specifically, such as the potential for large amounts of iron or other minerals to contaminate water used in the system and damage turbines and other equipment. However, likely the most significant challenge to overcome will be the fact that no facilities of this type have been built before. There will always be the possibility for unforeseen engineering and construction challenges to delay development. For example, the mine reuse project currently furthest along, the Glyn Rhonwy facility in Wales, has been planned since 2006 and is now under construction, but likely will not be operational until 2019.

Although these mine reuse projects hold significant potential for large quantities of low cost energy storage, the challenges may be difficult for some projects to overcome. These challenges will only become more prominent over the coming years as costs for battery storage projects continue their rapid decline. We have already seen massive battery storage projects announced that rival the size of some pumped storage facilities. With battery system costs falling at an average of over 8% per year … will these new pumped storage facilities still be economical after even 5 years of development and construction?


Can Virtual Marketplaces Unlock the Potential of Distributed Energy Resources?

— March 28, 2017

In previous posts, I have explored innovative business models that aim to maximize the value of solar plus energy storage systems in Australia. The country has quickly become a leading market for these technologies—as well as the advanced business models and platforms necessary to unlock their full potential.

Navigant Research tracks the rapidly growing Australian market through its new Energy Storage Projects Data Service, which provides unique insights into the dynamics of markets around the world. As shown below, the majority of storage systems in Australia are being used to integrate new solar projects and maximize their value for both customers and the grid.

While the Australian market for both solar and energy storage has grown exponentially in recent years, these technologies will only be an economical investment for select customers given current business models and regulations. A new program being launched by software provider GreenSync hopes to change this situation by opening new opportunities for customers to benefit from its distributed energy resources (DER).

Navigant Research Data Services

(Source: Navigant Research)

Making Connections

GreenSync’s software-based marketplace, known as the Decentralized Energy Exchange (deX), aims to provide an avenue for distributed solar PV and energy storage system owners to trade their system’s services with local network operators in exchange for payments. Initially, the primary goal of the exchange will be to help operators manage both peak demand and variable solar generation on the grid. The opening launch of the marketplace will focus on trials with two utilities. ActewAGL, in Australia’s Capital Territory, hopes to understand how market-integrated batteries can alleviate constraints in certain parts of the grid, particularly those struggling to handle high levels of solar PV. United Energy in the Melbourne area is piloting the deX marketplace to reduce grid congestion where summer peak demand is straining existing infrastructure.

These utilities join a number of others in Australia that are working to understand how networks of DER can be utilized to provide services for grid operators in addition to the customers who own them. Utilities like AGL Energy, SA Power Networks, and Ergon Energy are working with various vendors to maximize the value inherent in energy storage systems and other flexible DER to improve the efficiency of the grid while allowing for greater amounts of solar PV to be added by customers.

Coordination Is Key

For DER providers to reach the most customers and realize the full potential of their technologies, these types of virtual aggregation platforms will be essential. Without proper coordination, the growing number of DER on the grid can result in significant systemwide inefficiencies, and their benefits may only be accessible to select electricity customers. Collaboration and coordination among DER stakeholders on the grid are key themes explored in Navigant Research’s recent white paper, Navigating the Energy Transformation.

The ability to effectively aggregate and coordinate distributed systems will be crucial for both utilities and vendors to capitalize on all the values these systems can provide. Vendors with a narrow focus on only providing cost savings and backup power for customers will significantly limit their addressable market, as their solutions may be too costly for many customers. They also risk missing out on the opportunity to play a foundational role in the development of the next-generation transactive energy system that will transform the industry.


Applying Financing Innovation in Distributed Energy Storage to Make Battery Technology Bankable

— March 20, 2017

In a recent blog, I took a look at the importance of proper evaluation of the total cost of ownership (TCO) of battery energy storage systems (BESSs) from both a power and energy performance standpoint. Such an analysis reveals how extended battery lifetime and other battery performance factors can reduce the ultimate costs BESS owners would pay over the life of the system. This type of revenue and cost predictability is key to unlocking energy storage financing innovation anticipated to drive new technology deployments.

The Bankable Battery Challenge

Today, equity and debt providers and project developers looking to finance BESS have a limited choice of battery technologies. NGK Insulators has a proven sodium sulfur (NaS) battery technology that plays a role in certain long duration, utility-scale energy storage or microgrid applications. For other applications, lithium ion (Li-ion) technology backed by warranties from large, multinational conglomerates like LG Chem, Samsung SDI, BYD, and Panasonic are among the few technologies determined to have bankable BESS technology from a financing standpoint to date. This remains to be the case even though few of these Li-ion BESS installations have been up and running for extended periods of time.

Financing Innovation Enabled by Contracting and Technology Advancements

Many developers, systems integrators, and technology providers are focusing on creative ways to make BESSs bankable from a financing standpoint. Powin Energy is an Oregon-based energy storage systems integrator that recently developed and commissioned a 2 MW, 8 MWh battery energy storage system in Irvine, California under Southern California Edison’s (SCE’s) Alison Canyon emergency procurement. But there is more behind Powin’s efforts than just project development/systems integration.

Powin’s patented Battery Pack Operating System (bp-OS) is designed to enhance the monitoring of battery performance. Its software claims to do this by tracking battery system functions and lifespan at the cell level using its proprietary Battery Odometer and Warranty Tracker products. The Battery Odometer reportedly measures degradation and calculates remaining battery lifetime based on voltage, temperature, state-of-charge, and charge and discharge durations on a cycle by cycle basis. And the Warranty Tracker claims to express that status of battery performance relative to the specific warranty status in real time.

A technology package that truly enhances and simplifies the approach battery warranty monitoring would be compelling. Such clarity and simplicity from a battery performance standpoint could open up opportunities to standardize battery performance warranty insurance coverages across a variety of battery cell technology manufacturers, which would lower costs and provide additional comfort to project finance investors, thereby driving more financing activity.

A Promising Sign for Energy Storage Financers?

A proper turnkey financial TCO analysis should look at the total cost of operation for power and energy. However, projecting the cost of operation of the BESS at year 3 or 4 of a 10-year financing is uncharted waters. Technology such as Powin’s bp-OS coupled with battery performance insurance underwriting merits a careful eye in the journey by project developers to develop and finance BESS projects. As discussed in previous blogs, lower costs coupled with more predictable project revenue feeds the growth financing innovation that will drive the deployment of stationary energy storage technology.


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