Smart Grids, Microgrids and Batteries

Smart Grids, Microgrids and Batteries

Smart grid conference began with the tour of S and C electric.  I wanted to catch the sponsored bus tour to S and C electric as a first stop. This is a home grown business in operation for 125 years.

S & C has a great model of a microgrid on display complete with light up buildings and components to illustrate how the microgrid works. The model is complete with all the components needed for a microgrid including buildings from the local school house, to single family homes, apartment buildings to the hospital. 

The model can be manipulated to turn off the wind generation or the solar input or the large power plant so that you can follow the LED light path to how the energy is redirected to keep sections electrified. The “brains” behind this are the controllers.  One very important issue that is illustrated is how the system can reroute energy from say a school building that is not occupied to the hospital to assure enough energy is available.

S & C Microgrid Model

A very integral part of this system is the battery or series of batteries. Face it the sun does not always shine nor does the wind blow continuously. Batteries are key to microgrid operation and involved in smart grids. This led me to ask a question. Are batteries generators? The following is one answer I got while on the tour.

“Think of the battery as a plastic pop bottle and the energy is the pop inside the bottle”, said the S & C representative. I nodded my head but wasn’t quite sure where this was going.  I suggested that when I buy a battery for my flashlight I expect for it to generate energy to power the light and thus I consider it a generator. Apparently this is a pretty important discussion that goes way beyond pop bottles. Clearly our docent considered batteries something other than a method to “generate” energy. This left me wondering about something else.

If the company that bottled the pop doesn’t own the pop in the bottle how can they take ownership just because they bottled it? Even Nestle has to have purchased rights to the water before they are allowed to bottle and sell it. If you are scratching your head wondering not only what I am talking about but also why you are reading this never fear there is a reason, energy from the sun and wind. These assets are not owned even though the turbines and panels are owned and they are the source of generation in other words…the pop.

There are permutations of energy companies, regulated and deregulated. One group are the generators. Companies that generate electricity and sell electricity into a wholesale market, and retail energy suppliers purchase this electricity to sell it to customers. Transmission companies or utilities own and operate the transmission grid.

Some states are deregulated for both gas and electric. Illinois is in that category as are Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Maryland.  Texas has deregulated electricity. So what has this all got to do with you, the rate payer and with batteries and microgrids?

In Illinois, a deregulated state, Com Ed does not generate energy. Com Ed owns the grid. They are the energy distributor. Exelon is the energy generator for a large portion of Illinois but you can choose to purchase the energy that Com Ed distributes from  other companies. This is particularly important now that other companies provide more renewable energy choices. Renewable energy, as I mentioned above, is not a constant source of energy and thus batteries are very important. We have to store energy in well the “bottle” and release it as needed or you might call it “generate” at a time when that energy is required. If batteries are viewed as a generation system deregulated states would legally have the right to prevent utilities, like Com Ed, from owning battery storage and battery storage is BIG business that is going to get much bigger.

 

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