Cleantech news has been pouring forth from the great state of Texas, but it looks like we ain’t seen nothing yet. Texas has just committed to its first ever grid-connected solar system with energy storage, courtesy of home-state solar experts OCI Solar Power and the global energy storage company Younicos. It’s a huge deal because the grid in question happens to serve 24 million Texans and other customers, accounting for about 90% of the electric load in the entire state.
If you guessed that the grid is managed by ERCOT, the The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. ERCOT has an extremely difficult mission to fulfill, and it is growing more difficult practically by the day. The agency is tasked with ensuring reliability within the confines of a virtual “electricity island” that lacks full connectivity with other grids in the US and Mexico, to serve a vast, complex, and skyrocketing number of consumers.
Younicos And Energy Storage And Texas
CleanTechnica was invited on a cleantech tour of Germany in 2014 got to tour a Younicos facility in Berlin. CleanTechnica director Zachary Shahan was very impressed with the company, and it sure has been making waves in the energy storage field since then. Last winter, Younicos earned a spot on our list of 43 battery energy storage companies, right after expansion announcements and not long before it announced plans to double its workforce in Germany and the US. Just before all of that, it began a trial run of the largest battery storage project in Europe. In April, it partnered with Leclanche for an energy storage project in the Azores. And just last week, it launched a major new energy storage system for Bavaria.
The newest agreement, in Texas, calls for Younicos to provide a “turnkey” 1 megawatt battery energy storage system for an OCI Solar Power installation, with overall system management provided by proprietary software developed by Younicos. The location of the solar array is not revealed in the press materials, but the important thing is that this will be ERCOT’s first ever foray into grid-connected, utility-scale solar with energy storage.
The system will also mark the first time that a facility in the ERCOT market has used battery energy storage provided by LG Chem, and chances are that it won’t be the last. Younicos and OCI have already announced that the new Texas project is just the first in a string of similar ventures around the globe.
Massive Electricity Island In Texas
ERCOT’s news feed from the past couple of months paints a picture of a system under stress, particularly when it comes to peak load. The agency’s 2014 report details long-term solutions for system reliability (as capably predicted by Abengoa by the way), and renewable energy storage makes the cut. Because of the grid’s relative isolation, the need for readily available reserves is critical.
With 43,000 miles of transmission lines and 550 generation units already in the mix, you’re not going to see ERCOT switch gears overnight. For example, while ERCOT added almost 1,500 megawatts of new wind generation last year, it also added more than 2,100 megawatts of new gas-fired generation (yes, that gas).
However, the agency’s 2014 report paints a clear picture of grid management in transition across the board, including energy storage:
As renewable energy sources become less expensive and ongoing regulatory developments create a more uncertain environment for some traditional generation sources, ERCOT is seeing growth in wind and solar resources and expects future growth in energy storage. Although utility-scale solar power still represents less than 1 percent of capacity and energy production in the ERCOT region, it is poised for significant growth in the coming years.
As of last year, Texas was still the leading wind energy state in the US, and wind accounted for an impressive 10.6% of all the energy consumed in the ERCOT market. ERCOT plans to look into adding another 6,000 megawatts of wind in addition to new projects already under agreement totaling 385 megawatts, thanks to the recently completed $7 billion CREZ wind transmission project.
Grid-connected solar is off to a slow start in the ERCOT market but that seems to be changing , too. ERCOT added 38 megawatts of new solar last year, bringing its total to 150 megawatts. A report commissioned by a Texas business organization suggests that this is just the tip of a very large solar iceberg.
Battery energy storage is similarly lagging at a total of 36 megawatts in the ERCOT market, with no new storage added in 2014. However, that is due for a sea change. Last year, ERCOT changed its rules for reliability to include storage in its Fast-Responding Regulation Service, and the ERCOT market could be in for another 600 megawatts of new storage capacity in the not too distant future.
Whither Shale Gas?
Last year, we got so excited about renewable energy activity in an epicenter of US oil and gas production that we declared that the shale gas revolution is over and done. For some reason, that memo didn’t get over to our friends at ExxonMobil. Last year, we noted that the company was buying up shale assets, apparently in support of the company’s new gas-to-plastics venture.
That strategy also appears to apply to the company’s shale oil assets. Last week, Bloomberg reported that ExxonMobil has been signalling a new push for shale acquisitions in Texas, focusing on independent producers. We’re guessing that represents a low-risk attempt (low risk for ExxonMobil, that is) to keep drill rigs humming along in a glutted market, so stay tuned.
Image (cropped) via Younicos.