Post-disaster battery demand project

Could post-disaster battery demand increase impact utilities?

Thousands of Floridians sheltered in 115 schools powered by solar-plus-storage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, able to charge their mobile phones to call their loved ones, staying warm and well-lit. In comparison, 6.7 utility customers affected by the hurricane, suffered with no electricity.

2017 was a harrowing one in terms of natural disasters — Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, California wildfires. As the billions of dollars of post-disaster damage becomes apparent, the resilience of energy storage systems and solar make them a very attractive prospect, and utilities, grid operators and public services across the world are taking note.

As there is no current way to accurately put a value on the resilience of a system, taking this into account during calculations is a challenge. Nevertheless, some groups such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are trying to put dollar values to different cases in their recent research. Whereas diesel generators have typically been used for backup power, when there is no guarantee when fuel can be resupplied, their resilience suffers compared to solar-plus-storage.

In the short-term, customers switching to solar-plus-storage for resilience reasons could eventually reduce their reliance on energy drawn from the grid, negatively affecting the revenues for utilities. Utilities can stay ahead of this, however, by leaning into the trend and reaping the benefits: research from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) predicts that solar-plus-storage combined with smart combined devices could reduce peak net load across wider geographic areas by up to 25%.

Combining multiple units of residential solar and storage can also be used as a virtual power plant (VPP), combining multiple benefits. The grid is more resilient, homes are protected against power outages, the need for new assets (transmission, distribution and generation) is reduced or eliminated and the VPP can be used to provide ancillary services to the grid.

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