Battery backup system in Glacier may help in power failures

The small community of Glacier could be among the first in Western Washington to receive a battery storage system that could help cut back on lengthy power outages and test the viability of a “microgrid” in that area.

If a Puget Sound Energy project is permitted, crews could install four shipping containers housing lithium iron phosphate batteries at its existing Glacier substation at 9967 Vaughn Ave. as soon as summer 2015.

The system would be able to put out a maximum of about 2 megawatts — enough energy to power about 150 average homes for one day, said Patrick Leslie, emerging technologies program manager for PSE.

The project is funded in part by a $3.8 million Smart Grid Grant from the state Department of Commerce. PSE plans to put in about $5.8 million of its own money to bring the system online next fall.

The battery system is expected to have a 20-year lifespan.

Glacier, home to roughly 200 to 300 full-time residents, was selected for the test project partly because there is no good alternative for PSE to increase the reliability of power to the area, Leslie said.

Since 2009, the area has had about two long power outages per year, averaging 10.5 hours long, according to PSE data. One outage from May 28, 2013, lasted 33.5 hours.

“The standard solution might be to do extensive tree trimming, but it’s a scenic highway, and it’s also very expensive to do that,” Leslie said. “It could be a better solution to put in a distributed battery to provide backup power during those outages.”

PSE has about 1,000 customers in the Glacier area, counting vacation homes that fill up during the bustling winter sport season at the nearby Mt. Baker Ski Area.

“A lot of residents are generally prepared for outages, but a lot who visit the area aren’t,” Leslie said. “If we can at least provide power to the downtown area, the grocery store, we can give people a place to go in case of an extended outage.”

The project will test whether large-scale battery storage has “real world” and economic potential, Leslie said.

“We’ve done some analysis with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and on paper, that looks promising,” Leslie said. “But there’s nothing like getting your hands dirty and putting a project in the ground.”

In addition to serving as backup power during an outage, the batteries also may be used to curb problems when the grid is near “peak,” when the most energy is being used.

“When our system is maxing out, that’s when we’re turning to our least efficient power plants,” Leslie said. “Even adding small capacity to the system, if we can add enough in the future, we can defer the need to build more peaking plants. Some of those only run a few days a year.”

Battery storage facilities also may be able to help PSE adjust the grid as the company uses more “intermittent renewables” — things like wind and solar — that vary widely in how much energy they supply, Leslie said. For example, as a wind farm in Eastern Washington puts less power into the grid, the batteries may be able to pick up a small portion of that load.

If the system works well with basic functions, PSE could potentially try to partner with Nooksack Falls Hydroelectric Power Plant to test if a microgrid in the area might be sustainable solely using the plant and batteries. However, safety, technical and distribution issues, as well as significant cost, would need to be resolved before that could happen, Leslie said.

Read more about the Glacier project at pse.com/inyourcommunity.

Avista and Snohomish PUD will implement other Smart Grid Grant projects funded in part by matching grants from the state. The projects are meant to improve the integration of renewable energy like wind and solar through storage and technology, as well as improve reliability and reduce the costs of some types of energy, according to the state’s Clean Energy Fund webpage.