California’s Hospitality Industry Could Provide Renewable Energy Storage

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Along with the recent burst of six new solar licenses granted by the California Energy Commission since late August, the California Independent System Operator is beginning to consider a variety of novel ways to integrate the record percentage of renewable resources into the grid.

With the 20% Renewable Energy Standard mandate expected to be on the grid by 2013, and an ongoing solar ramp-up to get to 33% by 2020, California now joins countries like Finland and US regions like the Pacific Northwest that are considering distributed storage to gain more control during times of over-generation, congestion and extreme system ramps.

One option is to develop more distributed storage for renewable power in everything from electric vehicles and water heaters to rooftop ice cooling systems. In the Bonneville Power Administration’s Pacific Northwest, for example 4.3 million water heaters that can store 2,600 megawatt-hours by allowing the storage temperature to vary by five degrees are to be used in this way to store energy to feed back to the grid on demand.

To this end the CPUC recently invested $1.5 million of California Solar Initiative R&D money in a co-generation start-up making solar electricity and solar hot water for industrial and commercial customers like food processors, restaurants, hotels and breweries. Potentially, the Cogenra Solar co-generation systems could provide distributed storage for when there is excess solar and wind power on the California grid.

These businesses would then be able to send that energy back to the grid on demand. In this novel approach, California would become more like Finland, which is now able to supply fully 30% of its energy from industrial heat and power co-generation by large industrial users like paper mills.

But an additional alternative being considered by Cal-ISO would be to encourage variable resources such as wind and solar power to take payments in exchange for curtailing output. Some newly wind-powered states which had too much wind power on the grid at low demand times forced developers to give away their energy for free or below cost.

This puts California’s recent investment of $1.5 million in co-generation distributed storage in perspective. It might seem like an extravagance for a state that is short of cash. But it makes financial sense, instead of spending state money on non-generation of energy, by paying wind and solar companies to shut down when they produce more than needed. California’s many industrial businesses and even smaller commercial users like restaurants and hotels would then be able to make money by supplying power to the smart grid. That would be a very novel win-win.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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