Virginia’s move to an energy future dominated by solar and wind power will necessarily be accompanied by battery storage. Vast arrays of batteries will be needed to store and release electricity to offset the intermittent generation of solar and wind farms. Battery storage is exceedingly expensive now, but the price is expected to decline significantly in the decade ahead. While the speed with which batteries become economical to deploy on a large scale is highly uncertain, there can be little doubt that batteries eventually will become an integral part of Virginia’s electric grid.
A recent state-commissioned report, “Commonwealth of Virginia Energy Storage Study,” suggests that the near-term potential for energy storage in Virginia (over and above the Bath and Smith Mountain Lake pumped-storage facilities) could reach 24 to 113 megawatts of capacity, while the potential grows to between 239 and 1,123 megawatts over the next decade. The study, written by the Strategen consulting firm, recommends establishing a goal of 1,000 megawatts by 2030. (That would be two-thirds as much capacity of the state-of-the-art, natural gas-powered Greensville County Power Station.)
A number of things must happen to achieve this potential. The Commonwealth of Virginia has no control over the pace of technology advance, the global supply of critical raw materials (particularly cobalt and manganese), or the evolution of wholesale electric markets. But it can do a few things. Foremost is to address safety, permitting and environmental issues before they create bottlenecks to large-scale battery deployment.
The problem with lithium-ion batteries is that they have the potential to catch fire or explode. That’s bad enough when we’re talking about a cell-phone or laptop battery, but the concern multiplies exponentially when batteries are erected on a scale capable of storing enough electricity to power a modern economy for hours at a time. The risk can be managed…. but that will require action by state and local governments.
The energy-storage study identifies four primary safety-related areas: (1) adopting safety codes, (2) adopting interconnection standards, (3) educating and training stakeholders, (4) facilitating uniform permitting processes; and (5) creating battery disposal standards.
States the study:
Building code development and adoption is a notoriously long process, typically requiring three years for development and then multiple years for states and municipalities to amend and adopt. The length of this process can be a barrier to the deployment of emerging energy technologies such as advanced battery storage. …
Adopting the most recent building and fire codes, or at least those sections that relate to energy storage, is the foundational step that States and municipalities can take to minimize the safety risks that ESSs [Energy Storage Systems] pose to commercial and residential customers.
Fortunately, Virginia administers building codes and standards at the state level, so standards can be implemented without the necessity of going locality by locality. Another issue that warrants attention is interconnection standards. Again, I’ll let the study explain:
Advanced energy storage systems are frequently used in grid-interactive scenarios that require advanced inverters to operate in conjunction with the utility service. … Whereas building and fire codes seek to protect the ESS host customer and their neighbors, interconnection standards seek to protect the grid from safety and reliability issues….
Overly burdensome interconnection requirements can pose a significant hurdle to customer-sited, distributed energy resources, including energy storage resources. Therefore, regulators in many states have taken proactive roles in addressing interconnection issues by establishing fair and transparent regulations and standards.
There is an interconnection rulemaking underway at the State Corporation Commissions, the study says. The SCC staff has been holding stakeholder workgroups and accepting comments to inform the drafting of standards.
Virginia needs to establish an “appropriate (but not unreasonably onerous” permitting process,” the study suggests. Project developers must build permitting costs and timelines into their financial and project-development models. An uncertain permitting process results in uncertainty and risk, which increases the cost of the project. By streamlining the permitting process, the Commonwealth can reduce risk and project costs.
To move these regulatory and permitting matters forward, the state may want to undertake “an extensive education campaign” to win over local authorities, fire officials, and utilities regarding the safety and grid-reliability of these technologies. “The inherently risk-averse nature of AHJs, first responders, and utility stakeholders often necessitates additional education,” Strategen says.
Finally, the Commonwealth must establish standards for end-of-life disposal. Batteries contain hazardous chemicals that must be disposed of or recycled at the end of their useful lives, about seven to ten years. To date, no one has experience in large-scale battery disposal, so best practices are still evolving. Moreover, in Virginia, states Strategen, “there is a lack of clarity over whether the siting of battery storage projects would require explicity approval from either the SCC, or the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), or both.
I don’t see any insurmountable barriers here. Strategen has identified the legislative/regulatory checklist, and Virginia’s political leadership needs to tick it off item by item. Given the strong support for renewables in the Northam administration and soon-to-be Democratic-controlled General Assembly, the political will surely exists to deal with these nuts-and-bolts issues. Leadership just needs to avoid neglecting them in the pursuit of sexier objectives.There are currently no comments highlighted.