This country’s utilities are addressing disruptive changes taking place in a number of different ways. Some adhere to more standard business models, moving at a painstaking snail’s pace in order to make any kind of change, no matter how timely the alterations. Then there are others who are embracing innovation, looking at the universe of changing technologies as an open door to new business opportunities.
Include Washington-based Avista Utilities on the list of utilities embracing the disruptive technologies which are presently happening across the industry, such as battery storage technology, and leveraging it for a new business model called “economies of scope” – a model Avista believes is the future of the utility business.
To this end, Spokane, Washington-based Avista Utilities Corporation’s Energy Storage Project in Pullman, Washington provides a solid example of innovation for the future of electricity distribution.
The storage project addresses a large challenge facing today’s energy industry: integrating power generated from intermittent, renewable resources, such as wind and solar, into the electrical grid. The project is also testing better ways to improve power system reliability.
Avista’s vice president of energy delivery Heather Rosentrater, who oversees this project, recalls what drove her to this utility was finding a business culture which took advantage of innovation. “We really do have a culture of innovation here,” she said. “Employees are encouraged to leverage new technology as it advances.”
Rosenstrater adds Avista customers cover a broad spectrum of preferences, ranging from those who want dependability and simply want to pay their bill to individuals wanting to own their electricity generation and sell that generation to their neighbors.
“It’s really looking at preferences and recognizing that there isn’t going to be one-size-fits-all for our customers.” she says.
The utility’s business vision includes assessing how potentially disruptive distributed energy technologies connecting to the grid can create opportunities. Then comes innovation. “One of the ways we are particularly focused on is through economies of scope,” observes Rosenstrater. “That means using those assets like the storage and the battery project that we have, trying to leverage it every day.”
While most utility customers may expect a reliable energy system, including one featuring renewable energies, most know little about the management of such a distribution infrastructure.
“Electric energy—including power from renewable resources—must be used as soon as it is generated. So if the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining during times when people need the most energy, it is not always possible to meet customer demand.”
Avista’s Energy Storage project is testing new batteries that can store power when it’s abundant and distribute electricity when it’s needed. A successful platform provides reliable energy regardless of weather patterns — a standard criticism of renewable alternatives. That is, until energy storage is added to the puzzle of integrating renewable resources into the electric grid.
Creating a more reliable, resilient, and flexible grid
Last April, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Senator Maria Cantwell, and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers joined Avista executives in Pullman to energize and dedicate the utility’s Energy Storage Project. The event marked a significant milestone as Avista commenced testing its new battery storage system.
Over an 18-month period, Avista, working with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, will test this large-scale energy storage system.
Avista’s goal is to explore how its 1 MW, 3.2 MWh large-scale battery system energy storage can help its electrical grid become more flexible and reliable by integrating power from intermittent renewable sources.
Pullman battery storage update
According to Clean Technology Business Review (CTBR), UniEnergy Technologies (UET) and Avista today announced the selection of Northern Power Systems to deliver advanced power conversion for the largest capacity flow battery installed in North America.
Situated near Pullman, Washington, near Washington State University and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, the battery started operations last April. UniEnergy Technologies manufactured the battery.
The UET system is an advanced vanadium flow battery, which uses Pacific Northwest National Laboratories technology.
Avista has until now used the system for load shifting, frequency regulation, and voltage regulation on the distribution circuit in Pullman. CTBR reports that the addition of the NPS converters will allow “the UET system to support Avista’s customer Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories to provide power supply without interruptions, black start and four-cycle ride-through to SEL’s manufacturing plant.”
This electricity storage infrastructure appears to be operating successfully. If so, we can anticipate other utilities to be analyzing the results of this project for other renewable energy projects.
Images via Avista