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Storage technology next step in renewable energy implementation

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Energy storage technologies will be an integral part of the nation’s move to modernize the utility infrastructure.

While viable energy storage technologies exist, they are in their early stages. Low energy rates in the United States have meant little investment in development of more advanced technologies, said Jon Fortune, manager of the Energy Advisory Service at the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE).

However, as energy prices continue to trend upward and the state’s renewable portfolio grows, demand will increase.

“There is an incredible demand,” Fortune said.

In order to comply with state legislation, California must generate one-third of its energy through renewable sources by 2020. While more power generated in the state will mean greater energy security, the state must manage the unreliable nature of renewable energy.

When clouds roll in, output from photovoltaic panels can decrease by up to 80 percent. Utilities are looking to storage as a means to ensure the amount of energy on the grid remains constant, despite such fluctuations.

The University of California, San Diego plans to install one of the largest energy storage projects in the nation. The university is currently in the process of negotiating with contractors, but has received incentives to install a fuel cell with up to 2.8 megawatts of storage capacity, said Byron Washom, director of strategic energy initiatives for UCSD.

The fuel cell will use an electrochemical process to convert methane gas -- currently being flared at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant -- into electricity. Once complete, the electrical output of the fuel cell will be used 20 hours a day to power the campus microgrid and four hours per day to charge a lithium ion battery. The battery will be discharged in the afternoon, during periods of peak demand.

The storage technologies will allow UCSD to better manage its renewable energy technologies. The university generates enough power to meet 80 percent of its demand, including 1.2 megawatts of solar, a 30-megawatt gas-fired cogeneration plant and a 3.8 million-gallon chilled water system used to cool buildings. The chilled water project alone shifts 18 percent to 30 percent of the university’s energy demand, Washom said.

“UCSD is kind of like a microgrid in SDG&E’s larger grid,” Washom said. The university’s complex energy management scheme also serves as a “great learning tool for students,” Washom asid.

The university has received more than $11 million in incentives through the California Public Utility Commission’s Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), administered by CCSE. More than $7.6 million was allocated to the fuel cell project and $3.4 million to the Advanced Energy Storage project. The SGIP was instituted in 2009 and UCSD is the first to apply for the $39.5 million in available incentives, Fortune said.

The storage projects are among many undertakings by the university aimed at increasing energy reliability. The university was awarded a $548,000 research grant through the CPUC to implement an energy control system developed by San Diego-based EDSA Micro Corp. The software has the capacity to control 260 data points per seconds and is currently managing $100 billion in assets, Washom said.

UCSD researcher Jan Kleissl is also working to predict renewable energy output, utilizing 3-D cloud imaging at 16 weather stations throughout the 1,200-acre campus. The technology has the potential to allow utilities to predict output by photovoltaic solar panels, down to the hour.

Previously, utilities have been reactionary in their management of renewable generation technologies. However, storage and forecasting techniques will allow conditions to be predicted, Washom said.

While storage has tremendous implications for integration of renewable generation technologies, it is currently used to ensure constant, high-quality power in industries such as manufacturing and health care.

Yorba Linda-based Vycon offers a flywheel-based energy storage product for the health care industry. The flywheel is constantly spinning at a rate of 36,000 revolutions per minute, continually charging a 30-kilowatt lithium ion battery. In the event of a power outage, the battery powers a generator, continuing to spin the flywheel and thus generating additional battery power, said Frank DeLattre, president of Vycon.

The technology can also be used to recycle energy generated by the movement of public transit rail vehicles. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to implement Vycon’s flywheels at stations, harnessing the energy created by a train applying the brakes to enter a station and storing it until it can be utilized to propel the train again, DeLattre said.

“It will reduce the amount of energy needed to power the trains,” DeLattre said.

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