Baker tries to kickstart energy storage business

$20m in grants awarded for 26 projects using mostly lithium ion batteries

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION on Thursday handed out $20 million in energy storage grants, an attempt to kickstart an industry that holds promise in reducing peak electricity demand and increasing the reliability of intermittent forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar.

Most of the projects revolve around storing electricity when it is cheap (off-peak) or readily available (during daylight hours for solar or when the wind is blowing), and then using the stored energy when electricity is expensive (at peak periods) or when renewable energy is not available.

The 26 grants, ranging in size from $221,000 to $1.25 million, triggered an additional $32 million in spending by the applicants and helped fund projects at the new General Electric headquarters in Boston, the Wynn Resorts hotel and casino going up in Everett, Boston Medical Center, and the UMass campuses in Boston and Amherst. Of the 26 projects, 22 rely on lithium ion batteries; the other four use different technology or processes.

The Reading Municipal Light Department’s project is the biggest in terms of energy capacity. With the help of a $1 million state grant, the department plans to use a lithium ion battery to store up to 10,000 kilowatt hours of electricity for use at peak demand times. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sunrun Inc. of Cambridge received a grant of $560,576 to help finance the installation of lithium ion batteries in individual homes to provide backup for solar power.

Judith Judson, commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, and Stephen Pike, president of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

The Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority, with a $545,000 grant, plans to use a lithium ion battery in conjunction with solar power arrays to charge its electric buses and avoid the cost of powering them up during high-cost, peak-demand times.

Robert DeSalvio, the president of Wynn Boston Harbor, said his resort will be the first in the country to integrate batteries into its power management strategy. Wynn officials said on-site solar panels plus two cogeneration units that will run on natural gas will be used to charge the Tesla battery, which is the size of a hotel room, and allow the hotel to reduce its need for energy from the grid during peak-demand times.

Stephen Pike, president of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said the state initially planned to award $10 million in grants but upped the amount to $20 million when high-quality applications began pouring in. Pike said 69 applications were submitted in all. The money for the grant program is coming from payments collected from retail electricity suppliers under a state renewable energy initiative.

Pike said the grant program will test 14 different business models for energy storage and help policymakers decide whether new laws are needed to spur greater development of the industry. He said he hopes the grant program will encourage the energy storage industry to think of Massachusetts as the place to be.

Judith Judson, the commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, said the state has 7 megawatt hours of energy storage capacity currently and hopes to have 200 megwatt hours by 2020. She called the technology a game changer in terms of reducing the cost of energy and encouraging the development of renewable forms of power.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“Now we can store solar energy for use at night. Now we can store wind energy for when the wind isn’t blowing,” she said.

The region’s power grid operates on the principle that the lowest-cost energy is utilized first. As demand rises, more expensive forms of energy are tapped. At peak-demand periods, the cost is the greatest. Judson said the top 10 percent of demand accounts for 40 percent of the cost.

“Storage can change that. It can disrupt that equation,” Judson said, noting that storage can make it possible to store electricity when it is readily available and use it when electr it’s scarce.

  • Ken Egnaczak

    ” Judith Judson, the commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, said the state has 7 megawatt hours of energy storage capacity currently”………..What about the two pumped storage hydro facilities, one on the Deerfield River and one on the Connecticut River ? The smallest of these is 3600 MWh !

    The biggest natural non-carbon energy storage system, our watersheds, that would not cost anything to build and get “recharged” at no cost every time it rains could feed thousands of local hydro power sites. Yet our Legislators choose to suffocate hydro with regulations and totally ignore pumped storage hydro. It is time that the energy bigotry stop and to promote ALL our local energy assets.

    • QuincyQuarry.com

      Let’s not forget that pumped storage hydro and similar “simple” tech sorts of energy storage are a whole lot more environmentally friendly than is what all results from lithium storage, ranging from mining to processing to disposal.

      Additionally, let’s not forget the loss of energy that results from recharging battery storage.

      I am not dissing storage of solar energy; at the same time, the whole enchilada behind doing so is complicated – way wicked more complicated than many realize.

      • Ken Egnaczak

        You are right. Why would you not consider powerful, proven pumped storage hydro with infrastructure that lasts a century or more and has no consumables ?? Or consider using a multi-benefit natural watershed that is constantly recharging and discharging. All you have to do is tap into the discharge circuit ( a waterway) to harvest this stored energy resource, also without consumables.

        Just because something is new and complicated doesn’t mean that it is better.

  • NortheasternEE

    For years we were told that the grid can handle the intermittent and variable power of renewables at least until we reach the 20% level of supply. With less than 6% supply from renewables, we find out that renewable power without storage are next to useless. ISO-NE is looking for seasonal energy storage capacity to stabilize the grid. That is a battery that can store enough electricity in the spring to carry us through the summer. That much storage capacity is not only unaffordable, it is far from ever becoming available.

    Baker needs a refresher course in engineering. Conventional state and regional power capacity is being reduced on the anticipation that renewables will fill the gap. Here is what is happening to Australia who bought into the propaganda of a “Clean Energy Future”.

    https://green-watch.net/embarrassment-for-green-lobby-politician-as-blackouts-rock-south-australia-10566ee2e654

    Mickey Mouse batteries are not the answer to impotent power from wind and solar!

    • Andrew

      Oh the fearmongering. I’m sorry, but your dream of going back to coal probably isn’t going to happen. Time to look to the future. Personally I would use Edison batteries (Nickel Iron) since they require very little maintenance and last up to 100 years. If the gov’t gave as much subsidy money to battery as they do to nuclear you could easily reuse places like Pilgrim Nuclear Plant as storage facilities and pay for the batteries/capacitors. The infrastructure is already there. At least a terrorist can’t turn it into a nightmare scenario also. Boom! killed two birds with one stone.

      • NortheasternEE

        when it comes to fearmongering, you guys own that!

        Who can top Global Warming, Rising Seas, and Nuclear Catastrophe?

        • Andrew

          maybe Apocolyptic prophesy, Atheism, or Soviet commy invasion Mr. McCarthy.