“Reliable Power Day and Night,” that’s what a Tesla Energy residential energy battery storage solution promises. For better and worse, the Tesla Powerwall is no longer just for the few seeking off-grid energy storage systems and want to mitigate against utility outages. In fact, smart energy offerings such as this are well beyond the top branded Tesla Energy. Sunrun launched their BrightBox solar-plus-storage product offering, Orison audaciously funded a home storage product through a Kickstarter campaign, and even the old school engineering firms such as Lockheed Martin have taken a foray into the energy management and storage market.
From a citywide sustainability perspective these solutions support the growing public desires to reduce dependency on fossil fuel burning energy sources so we should be pleased these technologies have emerged. Thing is, their capacities to deliver beyond green washing are vast and actually executing this at scale requires sophisticated regulatory and infrastructure coordination, not to mention a whole other set of technologies for load balancing. Scaling such offering at a citywide level, well, that’s even more complicated. Yes, this is what a smart cities should be doing to ride the wave of consumer demand that has gone beyond the need to build a bug out shelter for the next Zombie Apocalypse but integrating solar or renewable energy systems such as wind with battery storage is unfortunately a wicked problem. In executing these CO2 reducing and intelligent energy management solutions there are significant secondary outcomes. At the top of the list is the challenge of dealing with the historically denoted “consumer,” that in the process become a producer. Hands together now, let’s welcome the prosumer to the stage; the true problem child for energy utilities!
How does an electric utility (one only ever known to sell energy) deal with this new bread called a prosumer? If all producers install off-grid energy storage systems, what is the new role and responsibility for an electric utility? In this position, can they garner sufficient income to pay for the maintenance of wires and poles?
To solve these challenges there must be significant regulatory involvement in advance of the transition. Equipment manufacturers and system integrators also need to find ways to make commercially viable solutions that capitalize on consumer demand, but do so in a way so as to not send out a cry and in turn initiate a utility death spiral; ultimately leaving those without an ability to participate in this new energy marketplace footing the bill for the the entire delivery system. Lastly, through smaller scale pilot projects all the stakeholders can work out best in class methodologies that will take us from where we are to where we clearly are going.
Thankfully, innovative energy marketplaces and regulators are seeing themselves as critical catalysts and the stakeholders in this new world of distributed energy resources (DERs) are stepping up on a global scale. Pilot projects have begun and successes through public-private partnerships are happening. The 2016 Southern California Edison and Tesla unveiling of the world’s largest energy storage facility and the New York City program called NY REV have led the way. Each is but a portion of larger deployment plans for grid-connected storage batteries and both seek to reduce fossil-fuel reliance. Comprehensive energy strategies initiated in this way will be a win-win for the utilities that want to defray the costs of replacing peakers plants reaching retirement age and for the prosumer wanting to help reduce CO2 emitting fuel in the energy mix.