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Electric Cooperatives’ Insight: Innovation through Energy Storage

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Lee Ragsdale's picture
Senior Vice President, Energy Delivery NCEMC

Lee is a leader in discovering and delivering innovative energy solutions that simultaneously make our grid more flexible and efficient while providing co-op consumer-members new and...

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  • Jul 24, 2020

This item is part of the Energy Storage Insights - Summer 2020 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

The installed capacity of battery storage systems in the U.S. grew from 59 megawatts in 2010 to 869 megawatts at the end of 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). As more and more companies work toward sustainability goals, and with utilities focused also on power reliability and resiliency, we can expect the growth of battery storage systems to continue.  

From our perspective at North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, strategically incorporating battery storage systems facilitates our ability to make the grid more flexible and resilient while delivering greater value to cooperative consumer-members. It also supports our recently announced, voluntary sustainability goals of achieving a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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Over the past decade, North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives have worked to incorporate distributed energy resources, including storage, across co-op-operated grids to make them more flexible, efficient and capable of cost-effectively incorporating renewable energy resources. Based on our experience, including the development of five microgrids with storage capabilities, we believe storage will be increasingly important in our vision for building a brighter future for cooperative members and the rural communities we serve. 

A prime example of this is on remote Ocracoke Island at the southern tip of North Carolina’s renowned Outer Banks. The island is especially vulnerable to hurricanes and severe weather events that cause power outages and is isolated from large, central generation resources. Focused on resiliency, North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives and local co-op Tideland EMC, created a microgrid that includes a Tesla battery bank on the island. Through a central controller, the batteries and other resources, such as solar energy and residential demand response devices, can be dispatched and coordinated to power the island in the event transmission service is disrupted. The microgrid enables the local cooperative to quickly match local power resources with local power needs, while also providing new energy services to its consumer-members. We are learning from the Ocracoke Island microgrid, and a key takeaway is that one of the greatest successes of energy storage is the additional value it can bring to cooperative consumer-members in the form of increased resiliency and reliability. 

Batteries can also support sustainability while improving reliability. This is showcased in the solar plus storage model, which will allow utilities to cost-effectively integrate more renewable resources without the intermittency concerns typically seen with stand-alone solar.

As more energy storage and other resources come on to the grid, aggregating components and coordinating them on an interconnected energy platform will be crucial to long-term success. One way our cooperative network is working toward this coordination is through the creation of a distribution operator platform. Through the use of a sophisticated energy management system, we are monitoring and controlling resources like solar, storage, microgrids, thermostats, and even electric vehicles that collectively offset the need for traditional power generation and deliver savings to cooperative consumer-members.

For North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, battery storage systems will be a key component of our evolving, cooperative-operated electric grids. As we incorporate more battery storage in the future, our focus will be fixed on providing additional value to the member – through resiliency, reliability, sustainability and savings. That’s the strength of the cooperative business model; we are focused on people, not profit, and our innovation and actions are guided by the needs of the members we serve.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 27, 2020

Are there any advantages that co-ops can take advantage of from energy storage more directly because of their status as co-ops as opposed to IOUs, municipalities, etc.? Do storage solutions slide in any easier?

Rami Reshef's picture
Rami Reshef on Aug 10, 2020

Hello Lee,

Great to learn about the initiative being taken by electricity cooperatives to expand microgrids across distributed energy systems, not only increasing sustainability but also improving resiliency, especially protecting against severe weather events. I would recommend you consider the added value of complementing intermittent renewals and relatively short-lived battery storage with ultra-reliable, long duration fuel cells. Batteries and fuel cells are great partners, where batteries provide the initial kick-in and fuel cells follow through with longlived constant power to support your load for as long as you provide them emission-free fuel. As hydrogen becomes greener and more accessible - and even available from other sources such as ammonia,  methanol and biofuels, the operating costs as well as capital investment in fuel cells is significantly dropping, allowing you to significantly extend backup duration and load balancing capabilities as well as the lifetime of the microgrid.   When you consider your long-term sustainability goals, might FCs play a role in NCEMC's energy future?

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