I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Utilities deliver three things: voltage, frequency and reliability. The first two items impact the third. And, frequency – at least in an interconnected system with plenty of inertia like what we have in continental North America – is pretty easy to manage because it’s the same throughout the power system. Here in the Western interconnection where I live, that means the frequency is the same in Denver, Las Vegas, San Diego and Vancouver, BC.
Do you remember that outage that left some 50 million people in the dark on August 14, 2003? It took down 61,900 megawatts of load in eight eastern U.S. states and the Canadian Province of Ontario. The financial impact was as high as $10 billion in the U.S. and $2.3 billion up north. When government researchers from the U.S. and Canada examined the event, they reported that insufficient reactive power was one of the factors leading to it.
So, here’s the big question: When rooftop solar installations start causing localized voltage headaches for utilities, will there be enough local reactive power to bump that voltage up? There will if we get smart inverters along with new solar deployments.
Not long ago, one of the largest electric utilities in California told me they have 180,000 generating sites, and they expect this to almost triple by 2025. That’s just one of many reasons I believe no grid optimization can truly occur without distributed intelligence and control in grid-edge devices.
Hybrid storage – the process that leverages the flexibility of behind-the-meter resources to support grid services – is dramatically less expensive than other generation or storage options, plus it has other benefits. On the price side, Enbala has found that our hybrid storage solution typically costs as much as six times less than peaker plants and more than a third less than utility-scale storage options. By the numbers, that means utilities would spend some $900 per kW for a peaker, $500 per kW for utility-scale battery storage and $150 per kW for Enbala.
Some people hear the word “storage,” and all they think of is batteries. Most utility people aren’t that short sighted. They’ll remember mechanical forms of storage, like flywheels or the water trapped behind a dam. But – and I admit I’m a little partial here – I think the most efficient storage is process storage, or the storage inherent in the flexibility of controlled loads.