New report highlights potential for energy storage in North Carolina

North Carolina recently took another key step in its push for a clean energy future with the publication of a long-awaited study on the opportunities, challenges and value of energy storage for the state. The report, which was mandated under the 2017 Competitive Energy Solutions Act (House Bill 589), is the culmination of a year-long research effort led by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from North Carolina State University in partnership with the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory.

The report finds that North Carolina is at a critical juncture in its clean energy future, with energy storage poised to play a key role. However, in order to develop market opportunities for storage and ensure its full benefits are realized, policymakers must take key steps to wisely accelerate the adoption of energy storage in North Carolina.

Value of energy storage

The research team identified and analyzed 18 unique value streams across a variety of energy storage technologies, such as batteries and thermal storage. These value streams include everything from customer benefits; like avoiding demand charges, managing electric bills and providing backup power, to grid-level services; like voltage control and avoiding investment in power plants and transmission lines.

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The study found that, even with conservative estimates, energy storage is already cost-effective in several ways. For example, energy storage is cost-effective for helping commercial and industrial customers manage their electricity bills, and for electric grid services like frequency regulation. Further, the study finds that energy storage will be cost-effective across almost all technologies and value streams by 2030.

Do we simply wait until 2030 to invest in energy storage? In short, no. The study outlines three clear paths that North Carolina policymakers should consider to increase the cost effectiveness, deployment and use of energy storage:

  • Prepare – Address market and regulatory uncertainty by updating technical rules for connecting energy storage into the grid and clarifying the requirements for utility and non-utility providers to own energy storage in North Carolina. Focusing on these areas in tandem will reduce deployment costs and increase opportunities for participation and competition in the energy storage market.
  • Facilitate – Improve the cost effectiveness of storage by developing new rate structures like dynamic pricing or time-of-use rates when renewable energy is abundant. Promote data access and transparency to maximize the value that storage provides to the grid.
  • Accelerate – Develop a targeted policy to spur storage deployment, including specific incentives like the California SGIP or Massachusetts ACES programs that drive investment and enhance cost-effectiveness for storage operators.

Additional opportunities to build on

In addition to the areas identified in the report, there are other issues that North Carolina policymakers should explore to effectively realize the value of energy storage, including:

  • Resiliency – A key value that energy storage can provide is enabling faster recovery and a continued power supply when the electric grid shuts down, as with the Nags Head Microgrid Pilot. The resiliency value energy storage can provide is going to be extremely dependent on the context of deployment. This should be explored with specific case studies and research, as well as storage pilot programs to support vulnerable areas of the distribution system.
  • Enabling renewables – The study does not address the full potential of energy storage to maximize North Carolina’s use of renewable energy. Energy storage can help avoid curtailment, or the practice of turning off online renewables when there’s more supply than demand. It can also proactively drive pollution reduction when energy storage is charged with renewable energy. On the contrary, storage can ultimately increase pollution if deployed solely with fossil fuel generation.
  • Value stacking – For the most part, the study analyzes value streams in isolation. But, one of the important characteristics of energy storage economics is the ability to combine values (or “value stack”) to improve cost-effectiveness. For example, a battery can help customers save money by buying less energy from the grid, but it can also provide customers the opportunity to sell services to the grid, like voltage control and frequency regulation. Evaluating the impacts of combining different uses for storage can help paint a clearer picture of its potential in North Carolina.
  • Improving competition for cost-effective deployment – In October 2018, Duke Energy announced that it would invest $500 million in energy storage in the Carolinas over the next 15 years. This is great news and demonstrates the strong business case for energy storage for the state’s utilities. However, there remains substantial regulatory and market uncertainty for non-utility energy storage providers. Stringent interconnection and ownership rules, for example, limit the ability of third parties to compete to deliver solutions and value to North Carolina customers.

It’s exciting to have data that supports the tangible next steps for energy storage in North Carolina. Now the work begins. We must collaboratively plot our course in a way that optimizes the value of this technology for our state, being mindful to respect the clean energy engine that can drive its success.

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