The role of distributed energy storage systems to expand in the electrical power sector

Battery energy storage systems are a relatively recent technological advance. As utilities roll these systems out the ability to make the right decisions on how best to manage them becomes critical

The recent decision statement by the California Public Utilities Commission to order the procurement of 50 MW of energy storage is another sign that distributed energy storage systems are increasingly being recognised as grid assets, just as bulk energy storage systems have been for over a century now.

The United States alone has over 20 GW of bulk energy storage on the grid today, in the form of pumped hydro energy storage installations. By comparison, distributed energy storage, for example in the form of battery energy storage systems, is a relatively recent technological advance. Nevertheless, ABB has over a decade of expertise in implementing them, including the world’s largest battery energy storage system (46 MW) in Fairbanks, Alaska, which has been preventing power outages for the local community since 2003.

All of the enabling technologies for energy storage have been demonstrated and proven in real grid conditions and these systems already form part of ABB’s commercial offering, with all the reassurances that that brings for a utility rolling these systems out. In fact, most of the technologies of which these systems are comprised, such as power electronics and control technologies, are also widely used in the grid today without energy storage. As Commissioner Michel Peter Florio puts it: “we need to move beyond paralysis by analysis with respect to energy storage.” This will let us shift focus from analysing the performance of the storage system itself to understanding how to fully exploit the benefits that the functionality of energy storage in the grid brings, as these systems are rolled out.

The first step is to ensure that the energy storage systems are designed to be controllable as an integral part of the grid. Sophisticated approaches need to be taken to assemble large fleets of distributed energy storage systems into virtual power plants that a grid level generation management system can manage in concert with all the other power plants on the grid.

With the physical assets and the ability to control them in place, the ability to make the right decisions on how best to manage them becomes critical. The right decisions can only be made on the basis of the right information, which means accurate forecasts of the state of the grid and of the storage systems themselves. Forecasting the state of such a complex system, with the vast number of dependencies and interdependencies, from weather to energy prices, calls for new levels of intelligence or ‘smartness’. A neural networks solution can offer this, deducing the dependencies and interdependencies and learning as it does so.

Understanding all of these pieces of the puzzle, from the power technology, to the different layers of control and communication, and how to operate energy storage systems to best effect is what is needed now, and where ABB fits in.

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Energy storage – why do we need it?

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About the author

Stephen Clifford

I am the Global Marketing and Business Development Manager for ABB Smart Grids. I joined ABB in 2004 and have worked in different technology and commercial positions. As part of my role I coordinate the Energy Storage marketing and business development activities across ABB.
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