In Springfield Missouri, the local utility (Cities Utilities) and a battery manufacturer (NorthStar) are demonstrating how battery storage can help reinforce and extend the life of a substation in a growing area of the city. They are joining a movement in the utility industry to use batteries to defer costly system reinforcements.
The 1,140 installed 12-volt lead acid batteries will help smooth the substation’s load as the weather heats up, and allow it to postpone or perhaps eliminate the need for costly upgrades in an area where commercial and residential electric load growth is growing. NorthStar sells lead acid batteries around the world, largely for use in vehicles, cellphone towers and backup power systems.
This is NorthStar’s first foray into the utility energy storage market, confident the project will demonstrate that its batteries can play a role in managing the electric grid. This utility-business partnership has the support of clean energy advocates.
Batteries can be a very viable alternative to traditional reinforcements to utility substations, which often can involve additional distribution infrastructure or perhaps local generation. Batteries are relatively cheap, modular and can be deployed in months; and if necessary, even moved.
The utility/manufacturer team will closely monitor the $1 million, 1.1 MW battery system, especially as increasing summer temperatures impact the local grid served by the substation. Charging and discharging the batteries in a balanced manner is important to monitor and assess as well.
Why choose lead acid batteries? While lithium batteries are much lighter, can charge more quickly and generally have longer lifespans than lead batteries, they also require cobalt, a mineral with an escalating price and potential supply challenges in the future. And the lead in nearly all batteries is recycled. Recycling systems don’t yet exist for lithium batteries.
Can you envision Thomas Edison smiling down on all this, so visionary in his development of battery systems way back in the early 1900s! And don’t forget, our modern electric utility system stems directly back to old Tom and his central station concept and electric distribution system demo in New York City in 1882.