Energy storage will help solve our energy challenges

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

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In Jamaica, we face unique energy challenges seldom encountered on a mainland system such as the US. We have fewer power stations, which limits our flexibility to meet sudden demand changes, and must deal with both grid fluctuations and the high cost of importing fuel to power our electric grid. In the US, a large and diverse energy mix ensures greater reliability, and fuel is more accessible and affordable. In fact, the average cost of electricity in the Caribbean is four times higher than in more developed nations.

To solve these problems, we must speed up deploying renewable energy resources like solar and wind by adding energy storage to our electric grid. Our energy future depends on it.

Jamaica's energy today

Fluctuations on the electric grid and severe weather can both cause blackouts and brownouts, and those may come at a high cost to our communities. In one case, last April's islandwide blackout cost the Jamaican economy approximately $340 million, according to the Office of the Utilities Regulation.

Transporting diesel fuel and heavy fuel oil (HFO) — needed for traditional back-up generators and other thermal plants — to Jamaica is an expensive and time-consuming process, and one with potential significant environmental impacts. Not only does shipping have a high carbon footprint, but pollution from ships and fossil fuel generators also impacts our island's air quality.

Jamaica's energy future

So how do we change the way we produce and deliver electricity? To reduce our dependence on imported fuel we must continue to add renewable alternatives like hydro, biomass, solar and wind power. While renewable energy integration has presented challenges for the existing Jamaican energy infrastructure, these systems (solar and wind, in particular) don't require a continuous supply of fuel. This makes them cheaper and cleaner than fossil fuel during operation and over the lifetime of the plants. In fact, experts predict cost reductions of up to 75 per cent from using renewable energy, instead of thermal plants.

The other piece of the puzzle is energy storage. By adding energy storage to our electric power system, we can absorb energy from solar and wind when it is plentiful, and release it back onto the grid when we need it most. The right energy storage technology can firm up our energy infrastructure and is a critical component in helping us integrate more lower-cost energy resources.

Energy storage is the appropriate component to minimise the impacts of generation intermittency sometimes experienced with solar and wind systems making it a necessary component for power grid transformation. Choosing the appropriate duration system is crucial to meet the needs of the Jamaican grid. Some systems only provide energy output for a period of less than 15 minutes, which clearly would present a challenge in the event that a rainstorm lasts 30 minutes, an hour or even longer. The right duration system is one that can support the second-to-second demands of the modern-day electrical grid, but can also handle fluctuations that last for longer periods of time, allowing the grid operator to use expensive diesel less often to provide peak generation. That's why having long enough duration storage for our needs is key — energy storage should reduce costs, not increase them.

For instance, battery-based energy storage has the capability to be configured to any duration, from short duration (15 minutes) to longer durations (four hours or longer). In addition to reducing cost for energy users, storage can also amplify the environmental benefits achieved through renewable generation by using more of the energy produced by solar and wind.

Putting storage to work

The Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS) has taken a leading position in the Caribbean region and the world by incorporating energy storage into its grid infrastructure investments. Earlier this week, it announced it will be doubling its expenditure on energy storage and efficiency projects by December this year to help drive down the cost of electricity. As part of that plan, the utility company recently announced it will procure a 24.5 megawatt energy storage system to improve our grid stability and reliability.

With energy storage of sufficient duration in place, JPS will be able to store surplus energy generated from solar or wind power for relief during prolonged power outages caused by increased demand, renewable generation intermittency, and transmission failures.

Energy storage technology, like grid-scale batteries, has been widely adopted around the world and is a mature technology at scale. Now it's our time to bring these benefits to Jamaica. The needs of our power grid can be much better served by systems that are flexible enough to provide near-instant response to small variations and support our peak power needs as well. Let's stop wasting money on expensive thermal peaking plants and continue to pursue energy storage technology to ensure electrical reliability, stability and affordability.

David Barrett is principal consultant at ENBAR Consulting and former president of the Jamaica Solar Association.




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