Safer batteries, better economics usher in urban energy storage era

Ninedot Energy
NineDot Energy is developing this containerized storage project in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Urban battery storage adoption finally is coming of age. Evolving storage technology solutions, breakthrough utility regulations and EV-driven expectations for greater energy demand have melded into the first few model projects, which urban governments around the country soon will be sizing up for replication.

Take for example, the 3 MW battery storage project that NineDot Energy is developing in the Bronx borough of New York City, supporting a solar carport, Tesla containerized batteries and bi-directional EV charging, on an under-utilized triangle of land on a side street.

The Bronx project is commercially viable thanks to New York State’s trend-setting location-based marginal pricing (LMP) program, along with a thumbs-up analysis by the NYC Fire Department, and the $100 million investment in NineDot by investor group Carlyle, in January, says David Arfin, CEO and co-founder of NineDot.

“In an urban area like New York City where every square foot of land is valuable, you need to find the right product fit. Standalone batteries is one. If this project were just solar, there is no possible way to have justified the economic use of the land,” he points out.

Consolidated Edison, the utility serving the Bronx, is known for its aggressive adoption of storage. In August 2021, ConEd put out an RFP for 200 MW of storage in NYC and Westchester County, based on plants of over 5 MW each. In July 2021, the utility and partner 174 Power Global won approval for a 100 MW battery project at the site of the former 500 MW Poletti combined cycle generating facility in Queens. Slated for completion by late this year, the new install will be the largest storage facility in New York State — so far.

Location-based marginal pricing

Value stack overview

New York’s LMP program, the Value of Distributed Energy Resources (VDER) — a.k.a. the Value Stack — was created by Public Service Commission in 2017 to fairly compensate distributed energy resource projects (DERs). As a result, battery storage has emerged as a superior alternative to gas peaker plants as a grid energy supply shortfall solution. New York has RFPs out right now to supplant six peakers with battery storage.

The LMP tariff rate is a way for wholesale electric energy prices to reflect the value of electric energy at different locations, accounting for the patterns of load, generation, and the physical limits of the transmission system, says ISO New England. The Value Stack formula for DER compensation considers basic factors of energy value, capacity value, environmental value, demand reduction value and locational system relief value.

Battery chemistry and fire risk

Urban-Electric-Power
Urban Electric Power

An even more location-specific concern for urban solar + storage installations is fire. However, runaway thermal fires from standard Lithium-ion batteries may become a thing of the past — at least in energy storage projects — thanks to continuing market advances with lithium-ion and lithium ferrophosphate (LFP) chemistry, among other battery designs that can soak up much more heat without burning.

One new fire-resistant battery formulation has recently been developed by Urban Electric Power, employing a zinc manganese-dioxide (Zn-MnO2) chemistry in C&I applications that has passed the UL 9540A testing standard for fire safety. The battery withstood a 1,000 degree F heat test, notes Ann Marie Augustus, the company vice president of operations, and co-founder.

A demonstration project using the novel Zn-MnO2 chemistry being built this summer at the Grove School of Engineering campus of City College, in Harlem, will be a 200 kW/800 kWh system that can provide energy for four hours, Augustus says. Partners in the project include the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and utility ConEd. “Installations like this one could be aggregated to replace the gas peaker plant on the Gowanus River,” Augustus says.

One innovation in traditional lithium-ion battery chemistry has come from KULR Technology Group, which produces batteries with carbon fiber heat sink wraps to manage heat. The batteries have been ordered by Volta Energy Products, a subsidiary of Viridi Parente, which raised $95 million in funding for vehicle battery products, based on KULR technology, in January.

“Our thermal solutions (a)re based on similar designs we provided to customers such as NASA and Lockheed Martin…with space-grade thermal management architecture for stationary and mobile energy storage applications,” says Michael Mo, CEO of KLUR, in a company statement.

Aggregating storage

Yotta Energy storage
Yotta Energy’s rooftop C&I storage system just raised even more funding.

Beyond the first few open-air demonstration and pilot storage plants in New York, a host of commercial buildings await such installations, both inside and on the roof.

“If we build community solar + storage microgrids with decentralized installs, there is a high potential for them to enhance or reinforce existing grid infrastructure, as well as enable more independent use of the asset, as in energy arbitrage,” says Jennifer Gallegos, Yotta Energy’s director of programs and communications.

Yotta’s advanced battery-beneath-the-module design, utilizing LFP chemistry, tolerates heat up to 140 F without igniting, making installations on rooftops safer than traditional lithium-ion batteries.

The company is planning a number of urban solar + storage projects over the short term, following a $13 million cash infusion by a group of investors in November, and another big investment just this week. Some of the Yotta projects will be developed in partnership with Cal Solar, which specializes in multi-family installations. Other projects will be driven by the rising demand for EV charging at homes and businesses, Gallegos says.

DOE funds more community solar + storage

More projects involving urban community solar + storage will arise from the $25 million Renewables Advancing Community Energy Resilience (RACER) funding opportunity announced by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) in April. The goal of the projects is to enable communities to utilize solar + storage to prevent disruptions in power caused by extreme weather and other events, and to rapidly restore electricity if it goes down.

Commercial ventures also will multiply in urban areas over the near-to-mid-term. Beyond the Bronx, NineDot Energy also has plans to develop, build and operate 1.6 GWh of storage by 2026, in decentralized projects of 5 MW max, with a geographic focus on New York City.

NineDot in January ordered 110 MWh of storage from Stem for six front-of-the-meter storage projects in the NYC borough of Staten Island. The New York City storage projects will help the state reach its goal of 6 GW of storage by 2030.

NineDot also won a grant in April from the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), along with EV specialist Fermata Energy and Revel Transit, to develop solid oxide fuel cell and battery storage projects. IN2 is funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and co-administered by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

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