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Berkeley Lab calls on FERC to consider storage, renewables for grid stability

In a new report prepared for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory called on the commission to more fully consider the role of energy storage and renewables in grid resiliency.

The national lab publicly released the 116-page report on Feb. 13, giving FERC six recommendations on how to reduce the chances of blackouts. While large-scale power outages are rare, the power generation market is changing with new technology and more renewable energy sources being integrated into the grid. Traditional resources that back up the grid, such as gas turbines, may no longer be enough to respond to major generation losses. "Non-traditional resources" such as demand response and energy storage paired with renewable energy should be studied and considered to ensure grid stability and to respond to sudden losses of power, the report found.

"I think there's a tremendous role for non-traditional sources of primary frequency response to improve grid operations," the report's lead author, Joe Eto, said in a press release. "What's unique about these non-traditional resources is that they can be designed to respond faster than conventional resources, so they have more value intrinsically."

In a ruling issued on Feb. 15, FERC directed grid operators to create rules that will make it easier for energy storage to participate in electricity markets. Michael Goggin, the American Wind Energy Association's senior director of research, said the Berkeley lab report's recommendations and FERC's order reflect rapid improvements in renewable energy sources.

"There's been great technological advances for wind, solar and energy storage that allow them to provide these services, in many cases, very quickly and very accurately," he said in an interview. "The report also correctly focused on the fact that the primary reason we've had a decline in primary frequency response is that conventional power plants are not providing sustained response."

The fossil fuels industry, however, is pushing for grid operators to recognize that traditional power producers still have a role in ensuring grid resiliency in light of FERC's Jan. 8 rejection of U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry's proposal to provide more financial support to struggling nuclear and coal-fired generating units.

"No single resource is a silver bullet that provides all the attributes necessary for affordable electricity and a reliable and resilient electric grid," American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity CEO Paul Bailey wrote in a Feb. 14 post. "For that reason, we need to maintain a healthy mix of resources that includes the coal fleet."

Daphne Magnuson, a spokesperson for Natural Gas Supply Association, said natural gas frequently goes hand-in-hand with renewable energy, adding that it can smooth out renewables' intermittency to provide reliability. Natural gas turbines' start time is 20 minutes, "but there's always room for more ways to provide reliable service and certainly, demand response and energy storage are excellent additions to grid reliability," she said in an email.