If you want to see the future of renewable energy in the U.S., you should check out the large container sitting next to a nondescript office building off the I-95 corridor in Maryland.
Inside of it is a system that helps solve one of the key problems in the renewable industry: how to store power for longer periods of time in an economical way.
We’ve told you how solar and wind demand is booming. But sometimes it’s not windy, or the sun isn’t shining.
This disrupts the ability of renewable generators to provide a steady stream of current.
Now, the headquarters of Konterra, previously best known as the Laurel, Md.-based property developer serving the DC metro area, is home to one of the first renewable energy storage systems in the U.S. capable of not only storing generation when the sun’s not shining, but also delivering power to the local electric grid.
Here’s what it looks like:
The parts to focus on are the inverter, the batteries, and the transformer.
The inverter is used to convert the electricity generated by Konterra’s new rooftop solar panels, which come with the system, into a usable current to power either the building or the local grid.
The battery, which is actually just an off-the-shelf lithium ion package, can be tapped by the local grid to temporarily charge or discharge excess power in the surrounding area.
Finally, the transformer can remove the Konterra building from the grid in case of a regional power outage, providing up to four hours-worth of backup supply.
Current renewable storage set ups are pretty expensive. This system helps make it more economical.
As GreenTechMedia’s Martin LaMonica writes, the company that designed the whole system, Solar Grid Storage, actually gets paid for helping the grid operator balance power supply and demand — money that would otherwise be going to natural gas plants.
“When you can really squeeze value out of [solar and storage], it will revolutionise not just solar, but the way the grid operates,” the head of Standard Solar, which developed the whole project, told LaMonica. “You’ll see lots of distributed generation and microgrids, and the grid will be more of a backup.”
PJM, the grid operator for the mid-Atlantic, is so far the only major network in the country where this kind of setup, called Regulation Service, is possible. Grid operators, and the electricity industry in general, is notoriously conservative.
But given where the renewable market is going, it seems they probably can’t afford to be so for much longer.