A Bill to Push Energy Storage

Solar is booming and as it gets cheaper and more affordable, many more house hold owners and businesses switched to clean energy, but while the solar market is sky rocketing, there are still people who asks this long wondered question: “where does electricity will come from when the sun isn’t shining?”

The answer, according to renewable energy advocates, could turn out to be batteries charged on especially sunny days. As the state considers studying power storage in the grid, Green Mountain Power officials say they have Exhibit A on why it’s a good idea.

Executive director of Reneweable Energy Vermont, Olivia Campbell said “you can use excess generation from solar panels in the evening hours. Vermont is trying to be a leader in manufacturing, but also we are a little behind other states in terms of deployment.”

“Massachusetts just published a study arguing that large-scale use of energy storage technology could save billions of dollars by lowering peak demand,” she added.

A bill before the Legislature would require the Vermont Department of Public Service to “identify the opportunities for, the benefits of, and the barriers to deploying energy storage,” and “assess the potential methods for fostering the development of cost-effective solutions for energy storage in Vermont.”

The bill, introduced by Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-West Dover, was in the House Committee on Energy and Technology on Friday.

“It’s a very active topic right now in the renewable energy world, in the grid-management world,” said Anne Margolis, renewable energy development manager for the Vermont Department of Public Service. “Outside this bill, we’re already looking at all kinds of storage … and how it fits into our planning world.”

When Green Mountain Power’s Stafford Hill solar facility went online last year, it included an experiment facility went online last year, it included an experiment in storage — 3.5 megawatt hours of battery capacity charged by the solar panels. That’s enough to power about four average Vermont households for a month.

The batteries were connected to nearby Rutland High School to power the building in its capacity as an emergency shelter should power go down in the area. While the utility has not had to put that capability to the test, vice president of innovation Josh Castonguay said they have had significant success reducing peak power needs.

One of the selling points of solar power has long been that it is at its most productive during the times of peak demand on the grid, but Castonguay said the amount of solar development has helped shift peak demand into early evening in the winter — after the sun has gone down.

Castonguay said during last year’s annual peak, power from the batteries kept GMP from having to buy about $200,000 in power from the New England grid, and that saves customers about $10,000 in a typical month.

“Every time this battery is being leveraged, it’s lowering that cost,” he said.

“There’s a lot happening in the space and it’s really going to be an economic driver,” she said. “We are poised for it to be a strong part of growing our economy. … Storage is definitely the future of clean energy and necessary to achieve 90 percent total renewable energy,” Sibilia stated.

“I started this with a genuine curiosity,” the legislator said. “As we’ve taken more and more testimony, I’ve gotten more and more excited and also concerned. I want to make sure we don’t get too far behind our neighbors.”

Sibilia said the bill as she introduced it included a call for the department to look at establishing goals for storage capacity on the grid, but that language was softened in committee.