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What happens when the sun goes down?

December 10, 2016

Converting sunlight into electricity would seem, at first glance, a simple project: the sun shines; its abundant radiance is captured and converted by human-made technologies, and, voila, energy. But in reality, of course, it’s a bit more complicated. How, for example, do you keep the output stable, given dips and spikes in sunshine or the on-set of evening?

SoCore is committed to developing applications to address such fluctuations. On the most basic level, notes Madeleine Klein, Edison Energy’s Managing Director of Energy Storage Solutions, energy storage allows the consumer to address the fundamental supply-and-demand issue in solar: what happens when it gets dark? “Solar produces kilowatt hours of energy,” says Klein. “With a battery you can store that energy and shift it, use it at different hours of the day. Charge it during the day when solar panels are producing energy and then discharge it at night.”

Energy storage is also capable of solving problems on the electric grid that very few other technologies can solve. For example, says Klein, “If a utility has capacity constraints in a particular area of the grid, rather than adding a new natural gas plant which can be very expensive and difficult to site, it can add energy storage.”  Such precision and versatility translates into lower costs for ratepayers, as well as being better for the environment.

For commercial and industrial customers, dynamic energy storage systems can address the costs of energy by “clipping” load peaks that occur throughout the day.  What SoCore and Edison Energy are working on right now, says Klein, are battery installations that can reduce demand charges on the bills of commercial and industrial customers, by charging batteries when the cost of energy is low, and discharging them to reduce peak loads.  “Today’s energy storage systems come with smart software that tells the battery precisely how to perform in order to minimize energy costs for the customer.”  Since demand charges are often more than 50% of a C&I customer’s overall electric bill, savings can be significant.

A recent project in Oklahoma offers a unique vantage on how energy storage can improve functionality and reduce costs. The Progressive Resource Energy Park on the campus of a new business park in Stillwater, Okla., combines a variety of renewable, energy storage, and smart grid technologies to meet the energy needs of its first tenant, the Central Rural Electric Cooperative, and other clients to come. SoCore provided a Tesla battery storage system to the CREC project.

“CREC set up its new headquarters as a microgrid,” explains Klein, “so that it can seamlessly switch between solar power and power from the electric grid.  CREC has customers in its territory – especially natural gas and drilling operations – that could use this type of system to serve their power needs.”  This solar + storage setup could also help the CREC avoid costly wires upgrades for drilling operations that only operate for a handful of years.

“Central Rural is among the handful of leading-edge energy cooperatives who are proactively integrating technology solutions to improve the efficiency of the grid while providing their customers with sustainable energy choices,” says Klein. “We are thrilled to be a part of CREC’s innovative project.”

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