Solar could be the answer to Pennsylvania’s energy storage problem

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solar array Pennsylvania
A solar array is installed in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

Renewable energy is growing in Pennsylvania, but it still makes up only a sliver of the state’s energy production pie. To become dominant in the energy landscape and to help the state create a more resilient and environmentally-friendly grid, storage is going to be key. 

To advance energy storage in Pennsylvania, the state’s Department of Department of Environmental Protection recently announced the formation of the Energy Storage Consortium.

The group will discuss policy, market barriers and come up with recommendations on how to get more energy storage in Pennsylvania. The consortium’s first meeting will be held virtually Sept. 28, from 1-3 p.m. (Click here to register)

Why does storage matter?

Renewable energy sources may be “clean,” meaning they put out no greenhouse gas emissions during operations, but they’re not on-demand. Solar fields don’t generate energy at night. Wind turbines only generate power when a breeze is blowing. That’s why storage is going to be key in creating any kind of clean energy grid.

Fossil fuels can be used on demand, but there still isn’t much storage capacity. Pennsylvania’s current fossil fuel-driven energy system offers some storage capacity for days of higher demand and during natural disasters, but the grid is for the most part instantaneous. At times of high need, additional power plants come online to meet that demand. Because they don’t run that often, these plants often have high emissions rates.

Storage could also help grids become more reliable and resilient. PPL, one of Pennsylvania’s major electric companies, installed its first battery storage system in 2019 as a redundant power source to keep customers in service while repairs were completed. The system was used twice in 2020.

Pa. looks at storage

The good news is that solar and battery storage pair well together. That’s one of the major areas of opportunity the PA Energy Storage Assessment report pointed out. The Pennsylvania DEP commissioned the report to assess the state of energy storage capacity within the state, identify barriers and find opportunities. It was released in April.

The report found that there are 64 storage projects planned to be co-located with solar projects in 26 counties, totaling over 2.3 GW.

Right now, Pennsylvania has about 1.5 GW of energy storage capacity, most of which comes from pumped hydropower. The Seneca Pumped Storage Generating Station, in Warren County, and the Muddy Run Pumped Storage Facility, in Lancaster County, contribute more than 1 GW of stored energy capacity.

The report also recommended created a group like the consortium, setting storage goals and devoting public funding to accelerate storage deployment.

National picture

Nationally, pumped hydro makes up about 92% of the energy storage capacity. Last year, the U.S. had about 24.5 GW in energy storage capacity.

Most of the growth in national storage capacity is happening in battery storage. Across the U.S., large-scale battery storage capacity increased by 35% in 2020, reaching 1,650 MW. Battery storage has tripled in the last five years, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report, released Aug. 16. 

“Growth in U.S. battery systems is critical as the United States faces new hurdles to reliable electricity delivery,” said EIA acting administrator Steve Nalley, in a press release. “Energy stored in batteries can react to second-to-second fluctuations in the electric grid, protecting grid power quality and improving the grid’s efficiency.”

Much of the growth nationally came from battery systems located with or connected to solar projects. This is a trend that’s expected to continue. There is 7,689 MW in co-located battery storage systems proposed to be built and come online between 2021 and 2023, compared with 3,115 MW of standalone storage.

Adding 10 GW of storage in the next two years would represent more than a 1000% increase from the capacity in 2019 of 1 GW.

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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