Energy Storage: The Facility Manager’s Newest Tool

Energy storage, often called the “holy grail” of energy, is regularly touted as a solution to fixing the aging power grid; a critical tool in increasing the spread of renewable energy; and a bridge between the needs of utilities and their customers.

But what is energy storage, and how can it be put to use, today, in facilities across the country?

The fact is, grid-connected energy storage is not a new concept, and it is commercially available today as a valuable tool for reducing electric bills, increasing resiliency and earning revenue. And unlike the elusive “holy grail,” energy storage is easily discoverable. In California alone, there are more than 130 installations of customer-sited, behind-the-meter storage systems installed at commercial and industrial facilities.

Energy storage is a proven group of technologies that has been in existence for decades. There is a wide range of affordable and reliable storage options available, and a host of major companies are now delivering grid-connected storage to the marketplace. The technologies that are most relevant to commercial and industrial facilities include:
• Solid-state batteries: Batteries are often paired with an intelligent software system that can charge and discharge them based on a building’s energy usage, weather patterns and historical use patterns.
• Flow batteries: A type of rechargeable battery, where energy is stored directly in the electrolyte solution; benefits typically include a longer lifecycle and fast response times.
• Flywheels: These systems store electricity in the form of kinetic energy. If power fluctuates or goes down, the rotor will continue to spin and the kinetic energy that results can be converted into electricity. Flywheels are useful for power quality and reliability.
• Thermal storage: Thermal technologies enable temporary energy reserves in the form of heat or cold. Ice storage, for example, works by making ice during off-peak hours when rates are low. When demand increases and rates go up, the ice system turns off the air-conditioning and uses the stored ice to provide cooling.

Energy storage can be installed at many points in the grid — including factories and other commercial or industrial facilities. There are already tens of thousands of grid-connected behind-the-meter storage systems installed at commercial, industrial and residential locations throughout the world. These systems are providing a multitude of benefits to facilities, including demand charge reduction, participation in demand response programs, maximized time-of-use rates, environmental benefits and emergency backup. The savings can also be seen at The Santa Rita Jail, located just outside San Francisco, which operates as a fully functioning microgrid system with on-site generation and energy storage, resulting in savings of $100,000, annually.

To learn more about energy storage and hear from building owners who have installed storage, attend Energy Storage North America (ESNA), the largest energy storage event in the country, October 4-6 in San Diego. Register now to learn about how storage is cutting costs and addressing pain points for facilities.

Janice Lin is the director and founder of the California Energy Storage Alliance and the founder and chair of the annual Energy Storage North America conference.