The Role Of Energy Storage In Boston’s Renewable Energy Transition

The Role Of Energy Storage In Boston’s Renewable Energy Transition – A new report published Monday by MIT researchers finds that it is technologically and financially feasible to use energy storage systems, such as large batteries or hydroelectric power, to almost completely eliminate the need for fossil fuels to operate regional energy grids. .

Such systems are growing in demand in New England and beyond as more renewable energy powers homes and businesses and requires ways to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

The Role Of Energy Storage In Boston’s Renewable Energy Transition

The Role Of Energy Storage In Boston's Renewable Energy Transition

“Our study reveals that energy storage can help [renewable energy]-dominated power systems balance electricity supply and demand while maintaining reliability in a cost-effective manner,” said Robert Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, which commissioned the three-year study.

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The report’s authors estimate that the cost of transforming energy grids in the Northeast, Southeast and Texas will be between 21 and 36 percent higher than if nothing were done to promote storage-based renewable energy. Costs will be higher in the Northeast, where energy needs are higher in winter.

But they described those costs as “relatively modest” and noted that there will be many hours when electricity costs will be close to zero. This means that future electricity grids are more likely to enable cheap charging of an increased number of electric vehicles and homes with electric heating systems. They will be able to be charged when prices fall.

“These cost increases are relatively modest compared to the costs of doing nothing, and especially compared to the costs of climate change, which is an existential threat,” said Darik Malapragada, one of the report’s authors.

As of 2019, New England had 62 megawatts of battery storage capacity, according to a report last year from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. There are numerous projects that have proposed adding about 6,500 megawatts of energy storage to the regional grid, with more than 630 megawatts of new storage capacity slated to become operational by 2025, according to ISO New England, the regional grid operator.

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Joe Curtaton, chairman of the North East Clean Energy Council, said the report highlighted that storage could be used in many locations. The report states that many existing fossil fuel plants could be converted into storage facilities.

“It means energy jobs across our region, and the best part is that it’s ready to deploy now,” he said. “We should not waste time or money on archaic projects, such as the proposed Peabody plant.” We should be building energy storage to cover our peak energy needs.”

The Baker administration approved construction of a 55-megawatt fossil-fueled plant in Peabody designed to operate on the coldest and hottest days of the year to add power to the grid when needed.

The Role Of Energy Storage In Boston's Renewable Energy Transition

“All of their conclusions seem to be concepts that are widely accepted in the field of energy issues,” said Kyle Murray, senior policy advocate at the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group in Boston. “We in the energy field have long stressed that cost-effective storage is absolutely necessary for our renewable energy future.” Massachusetts is hot on the trail of the holy grail. The holy grail of renewable energy that is.

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The state launched a $10 million energy storage competition. It is looking for demonstration projects to help utilities overcome the biggest shortfall in wind and solar power generation. They only produce power sometimes.

“Storage is a key technology that helps us really use renewable energy when the sun isn’t shining, when the wind isn’t blowing,” says Matthew Beaton, secretary of state for energy and environment. “We can still rely on those electrons that are generated from those resources. This is one of the most exciting areas because there are so many different forms of storage. Storage is going to be incredibly important.”

Exotic energy storage technologies are being developed in the country. One is based on rhubarb chemistry, the other uses molten glass. We’ll explore these and other storage technologies in an occasional series of Bostonomics stories, but today I’m taking a look at a big battery already in use in Boston that isn’t cutting edge, but is definitely very cool.

A high-pitched noise comes from the pumps and boilers in the basement of the Mockley Courthouse in Boston’s Innovation District,  but in the rarely seen sub-basement below, things are much quieter — and much cooler.

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“Yes, it’s cold here,” says Paul Valenta, head of marketing and sales for CALMAC Manufacturing. “We store energy, right?”

And what CALMAC’s dumb, thermal storage tanks do is cool Moakley Courthouse in a very smart, energy-efficient way.

Large pipes filled with glycol antifreeze connect the tanks to a cooling machine – basically a refrigerator – then smaller pipes, filled with cooled antifreeze, circulate inside the tanks.

The Role Of Energy Storage In Boston's Renewable Energy Transition

This process turns 65 tanks, each filled with 1,500 gallons of water, into giant ice cubes and turns the sub-basement of the Moakley Courthouse into a farm of frozen batteries that can be charged when energy is cheap and collected when cooling is needed.

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“The idea behind the product is — in most parts of the country — energy is half the price at night, so with our system you create your air conditioner at night, store it as ice and then use it the next day to offset the chiller using electricity “, explains Valenta.

He refers to thermal storage as a byproduct of energy demand, as buildings account for two-thirds of our electricity consumption — and most of that is for cooling. With Boston’s electricity rates among the highest in the nation, the payback for the CALMAC storage system was quick.

“I think it was an additional million and a half dollars in 1996 when the project went out to bid,” Valenta tells me. “So it cost a million and a half, and the savings should have been about a million and a half a year.” That’s a big number.

The tanks, which are filled with 1,500 gallons of water, turn into giant ice cubes overnight to keep the building cool during the day. (Jesse Costa/)

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Outside the Mokli courthouse in the seaport, 20 new buildings are being built — shops, apartments, office space.

You’d think that buying some big, stupid tanks to save large amounts of energy wouldn’t be smart, but you’d be wrong. The underground ice storage system of Moakley is out of sight and seems to be the minds of the developers.

“Even when we go around and talk to some of the consultants in the area, we talk about the courthouse project, they say, ‘Oh, that system hasn’t worked for years, they don’t even use it anymore, it’s pulled,’ ” Valenta says.

The Role Of Energy Storage In Boston's Renewable Energy Transition

“People don’t know about this,” he says. “Not many people know about this. The people who work here know about it, that’s it.

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“The tenants who are here want their office to be at the right temperature.” They don’t care how we work. That’s why we have to provide air conditioning. They just don’t know that. They don’t care. They just want the bottom line,” says Johnson.

And in a typical commercial building, people want it to be cheap, which explains why a simple energy storage system like CALMAC hasn’t caught on like wildfire.

It is literally money transfer. In real estate circles, it’s called: triple net rent.

“Building owners aren’t necessarily creating the cheapest power for their tenants because they’re missing out on those costs,” said Travis Sheehan, senior infrastructure advisor at the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

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Sheehan says real estate developers have no incentive to install more expensive energy storage systems because their first concern is to reduce their upfront construction costs to make their rents as attractive as possible.

Federal buildings can afford higher, upfront costs for ice energy storage because the owners/tenants — the taxpayers — are patient. The system pays off in the long run.

“It’s tanks, it’s pipes, it doesn’t break, it doesn’t move, you don’t have to grease the bearings,” says Johnson, the courthouse’s chief engineer. “You don’t have to do anything about it.” Anytime we can save money here, we all save.”

The Role Of Energy Storage In Boston's Renewable Energy Transition

The reservoirs generate energy at night, store it in the form of ice, and then use it the next day to offset air conditioning costs. (Jesse Costa/)

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“And it’s geeky, it’s hard to do, but that’s what makes it exciting,” says Judith Judson, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

She is leading the state’s energy storage efforts. Massachusetts just became the third state in the nation to pass energy storage legislation.

“There’s a real opportunity to really change the way we use our electricity grid infrastructure by adding energy storage,” she said.

If by the end of the year Commissioner Judson determines that online storage is viable, cost-effective and necessary, mandatory storage targets will be set and the state’s electric companies will have to begin complying by 2020.

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“We really want to become a national leader in this field and take advantage of the potential that this technology has,

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