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Tiny Green Charge Networks “Peaker Plant” Saves Big Pile Of Cash

The startup Green Charge Networks is planning a big announcement for next week, so in advance of that we’re going to take a look back at what the company has been up to so far. Its GreenStation™ energy storage unit is a lithium-ion battery system designed to operate like an on site, miniature peaker plant, providing businesses with their own stored juice rather than having to draw electricity from the grid when high demand rates kick in.

With $12 million in Department of Energy funding in hand and agreements signed with 7-11, Walgreen, and others, there must be something more to the Green Charge Networks GreenStation system than basic energy storage…right?

Green Charge Networks energy storage system

Courtesy of Green Charge Networks

The GreenStation Energy Storage System

Yes, right you are. The nut of GreenStation is its ability to combine energy storage with predictive algorithms based on utility and weather data, which enables it to anticipate high demand and other grid disruptions including the effects of extreme weather events (as it happened, the company tugged at our sleeve just in advance of a major ice storm pushing through the Northeast which as of this writing has already knocked out power to thousands).

The result is a system that keeps a business on track at normal or nearly normal levels of operation while saving money over premium grid demand rates.

Green Charge Networks notes that in California and New York City it is not uncommon for businesses to pay more than 40 percent of their monthly electricity bill in demand charges. In some cases that can range up to 70 percent, so the savings can really pile up.

7-11 was an early adopter of GreenStation, and the agreement with Walgreen follows other customers including academic and government facilities, and office buildings.

Saving Money Is Just The Start

Superficially, it might appear that GreenStation is not particularly aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, since one of its key attractions is to enable business-as-usual during grid disruptions and high demand periods.

However, that’s missing the big picture. Conventional peaking plants, are expensive, fossil fuel-burning facilities that are designed to kick in quickly during high demand periods.

With more large-scale customers storing energy off the grid, utilities can avoid building new peaking plants as economic activity in their service area picks up.

The GreenStation system also provides a strong motivator for large facilities to install solar systems. According to Green Networks Charging:

…batteries can keep the customer’s peak demand usage under a certain threshold (e.g., 20 kW, 200 kW, 500 kW, depending on what rate the customer is on) to allow solar developers and integrators to install solar PV on the best possible rate for the customer, giving them the best ROI for the solar PV system.

By installing a battery, and getting the customer onto the “solar-friendly” utility rate schedule, the total system not only gets favorable tariff rates, but it reduces energy usage (kWh) as well as demand charges (kW).

Let’s also note for the record that the GreenStation system itself has been slimmed down from its initial profile. According to Green Charge Networks the result is a hardware footprint about two-thirds smaller than the original system, with a three-fold increase in efficacy.

A PPA For Energy Savings

The $12 million Department of Energy funding is aimed at developing a streamlined system for recruiting large scale electricity users into the energy storage umbrella, by offering them a deal they can’t refuse: no up-front costs.

If that rings a bell, you’re already thinking about power purchase agreements (PPA’s), which are becoming common across the US solar industry (for some striking examples, check out solar PPA’s involving military installations, here, here and here).

The basic idea is to enable a customer to install on site solar panels without paying for them up front. Instead, they are paid off through monthly electricity rates. Since rates for solar are generally less than conventional grid rates, it’s win-win-win all around.

The arrangement is similar for energy storage, and it’s also coming into play for energy efficiency and conservation equipment as well. Green Charge Networks calls it a Power Efficiency Agreement℠ (PEA).

The “New Frontier” Of Energy Savings

To get a look at how Green Charge Networks sees the future grid, check out the company’s blog post dated January 27:

Power Efficiency is the new frontier in efficiency savings, displacing the Energy Efficiency paradigm. It requires sophisticated software and predictive algorithms; but if done right, Power Efficiency holds the promise of using software instead of copper to keep up with rising electric demands on the grid, at 3X – 10X less cost than current practice of hardware-based service upgrades.

That’s something to keep in mind as evidence continues to mount that the current rate of fossil fuel extraction, storage, transportation and consumption is not sustainable, adding the double whammy of crumbling fossil fuel infrastructure (see for starters: Enbridge spill, Pegasus spill, Crude MCHM spill, and Monday’s coal ash spill) to an already outdated and overburdened electrical grid.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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