By William Flanagan
With its population approaching 1 million, along with roughly 32,000 businesses, the costs of being without power are becoming increasingly apparent for Westchester County.
During outages, seniors struggle, resulting in an increased use of emergency response services, county businesses feel the impact of disruption to their operations and general living for residents is compromised.
Additionally, county residents and businesses endure high electricity rates while remaining vulnerable to increasing power outages due to more extreme weather.
Yet a new class of nongenerator-based battery storage systems is not only providing power during emergencies, but also helping to cut electricity costs throughout the year.
Following 2012’s Hurricane Sandy when power outages endured for days and even weeks and fuel supplies became strained, state and local officials began taking a closer look at the problems of relying mainly on gasoline and diesel-fired generators. Officials also took note that many owners of solar arrays couldn’t use the electricity being generated from their systems due to electric utility safety regulations to protect their linemen.
Meanwhile, one year earlier, the idea of battery storage playing a much larger role within the photovoltaic solar industry began to take shape in Germany. From 2013 on, German homeowners were allowed to install battery storage systems to their new or existing solar arrays and to use their stored electricity within their own battery banks when the sun went down. It became the first developed country to successfully demonstrate how adding battery storage to existing solar arrays could go a long way to solve the intermittency of solar-produced electricity.
For the first time, fully integrated battery storage systems — those which contained power inverter electronics, battery racking and batteries along with monitoring performance systems all in one lockable enclosure — began to appear. Such fully integrated systems represented a major change in design within the battery storage market, which has been long known for installers and integrators having to figure out how to design and install their own such systems.
In 2013, New York state officials, the state’s Public Service Commission, in-state electric utilities and other stakeholders came together to explore the process of overhauling the current electric utility operating regulations to allow for more market-side deployment of technologies such as PV solar and battery storage. The initiative, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), is a centerpiece in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to drive clean energy innovation, bring new investments into the state and allow more consumer choices.
By installing more solar and battery storage, the state’s electric utilities and its customers might be able to save energy and money during the peak summer demand for air conditioning while providing more back-up power during summer and winter storm-related power outages.
For the electric utilities, using more battery storage within its backbone, combined with numerous customer-sited battery storage sites, can provide them with a wider range of tools to manage their grids in response to changes in demand or when weather or other events disrupt grid service.
As REV continues to move forward, several key benefits have been identified. For residential and commercial customers who cannot or will not use fossil-fuel-fired generators, battery storage systems become effective protection during power outages. They are also quiet, installed indoors and do not produce any carbon monoxide one of the greatest risks of using any fossil fuel-based generators.
Combining solar arrays with battery storage allows customers to consume at night the electricity made during the day from their solar modules. This minimizes the need for gasoline, diesel or propane to run generators during extended power outages when fuel supplies can become limited.
For commercial meter accounts, battery storage allows the business owner to minimize demand charges, participate in electric-utility-demand response programs and become aware of and practice time of use-bill management programs offered by a variety of energy services firms. Currently, both the New York State Energy Research Development Authority and Con Edison offer installation funds and ongoing financial incentives to install battery storage systems in conjunction with Con Edison’s Demand Response Participation Program.
In the near future, battery storage both with and without the use of solar arrays will undoubtedly become an important part of Westchester County’s energy mix, not only for power outages, but to save area businesses on their electricity bills during peak summer and winter demand periods.
William Flanagan is president and CEO of VARTA Microbattery Inc. in Rye, the North American arm of global energy company VARTA Microbattery headquartered in Germany. He can be reached at 914-592-2500.