Industry Insight: Education key to combatting scepticism and reluctance to ESSs in the US

Industry Insight: Education key to combatting scepticism and reluctance to ESSs in the US

Industry Insight: Education key to combatting scepticism and reluctance to ESSs in the US Energy Storage Journal

 

US regulators and legislators must be educated on the benefits of energy storage if the country is to establish the best practices that will one day inform the laws and regulatory policy to boost deployment, the new US director of regulatory strategy and utility initiatives of energy storage firm Sonnen told ESJ.

Ani Backa, the former attorney and government affairs manager for Xcel Energy, said proper encouragement from companies like Sonnen, as well as from legislative and regulatory policies, would enable utilities to bridge the gap between small-scale storage and the provision of services.

Backa said that the widespread integration of solar and storage solutions in the US couldn’t be achieved without the involvement of local utilities, installers and end-users.

Legislators in the US began their push for renewable generation integration on May 9 when California became the first US state to mandate solar be built on new homes and apartments from January 1, 2020. The unanimous approval by policy and planning agency California Energy Commission could possibly pave the way for similar regulations on storage to follow.

While some states and utilities are open to the integration of renewable energy resources and residential battery storage, Backa said others states lag far behind.

“Residential energy storage is no longer a nascent technology, we are still seeing a lack of understanding of its role in some states, by both legislators and utilities, as well as scepticism toward the technology and outspoken reluctance to embrace wider adoption,” Backa told ESJ.

In the last edition of ESJB we reported how Sonnen had hired Backa to work directly with regulatory bodies and utilities across the US to promote the implementation and expansion of the German head-quartered company’s sonnenCommunity model, and help drive innovative electricity services that connect clean, decentralized energy.

Here, Backa talks about the transformative nature of storage, the growth of VPPs and the legislative hurdles the markets need to navigate going forward.

You are quoted as saying grid modernization is the key to a sustainable energy future. What does this entail? For example, will every home one day have storage and PV, or the introduction of VPP to neighbourhoods connecting residential, commercial and EVs?

Sonnen believes that having a more modernized, reliable energy grid is the only way to ensure a sustainable energy future. This is where energy storage has the ability to play a transformative role.

Smart energy storage systems are able to manage renewable energy with intelligent and intuitive software that knows when to store excess energy locally, when demand is low, and when to discharge local energy to meet high demand.

Ultimately, this model can save homeowners money and simultaneously take the strain off of the energy grid by assisting utilities in optimizing the lifecycle of their transmission and distribution infrastructure, T&D deferral, greater grid utilization and ancillary grid energy services.

Sonnen’s hope is to deploy more residential energy storage systems and connect them to create virtual power plants in neighbourhoods around the country to bolster grid infrastructure.

This has been a successful and vastly deployed model in Germany and, in partnership with our stakeholders, Sonnen is ready to adapt this model to fit the US utility landscape.

In the US, widespread integration of solar + storage solutions cannot be achieved without involving local utilities, installers and, of course the end-users themselves.

What are the biggest legislative hurdles the energy storage industry must cross in the US (and wider, if possible) in the next 10 years?

The legislative landscape is varied and complex. Some states and utilities are open to the integration of renewable energy resources and residential battery storage, while others lag far behind. While residential energy storage is no longer a nascent technology, we are still seeing a lack of understanding of its role in some states, by legislators and utilities, as well as scepticism toward the technology and outspoken reluctance to embrace wider adoption.

And while many within the industry see the long-term value in residential battery storage, we need to further educate our regulators and legislators on the indisputable benefits of residential battery storage so that we can establish best practices that facilitate law-making and regulatory policy.

In my opinion, utility leaders want to bridge the gap between small-scale residential battery storage and services provided to their residential customers, but they need the proper encouragement from companies like Sonnen, as well as from legislative and regulatory policies.

What do you mean by grid integration?

Grid integration refers to the process of using battery storage and the VPP model to facilitate the introduction of residential renewable and distributed energy resources to a local utility grid. Depending on the location, utility landscape and energy regulations, implementation of this process will vary.

Given our experience in Germany and our recent implementation of distributed, community micro-grids in Puerto Rico, Sonnen is poised to help utilities and end-users understand the options available to them, customize the approach, and execute on the integration process.

How do you see the rise of renewables in the energy mix affecting the grid, and what innovations do you foresee will aid the transition from fossil fuels?

We live in exciting times, with widespread penetration of renewable energy resources and adoption of these technologies by markets and utilities. However, renewables such as wind and solar are intermittent and sometimes unpredictable as energy is available and collected via solar panels and turbines.

When these bursts of availability occur, the surplus of energy is often generated during low-demand times of the day or shoved into an energy grid that isn’t equipped to handle the influx.

These bursts can cause traffic jams or congestion on energy highways or transmission lines and can lead to outages or higher utility bills for customers. To address this issue, Sonnen is leading the transition towards a cleaner, smarter and more resilient grid by introducing storage as the missing link in integrating renewables.