New England is getting more and more of its power from local clean energy sources like rooftop solar and wind. Not only does this lower our climate-damaging emissions, it’s also spurring innovation as groups in both the public and private sector work creatively to take control of our energy future. Among these new, exciting innovations is battery storage.
In-home batteries to store energy have been around for a while, but until recently they were expensive and rare. Now, batteries about the size of a bathroom vanity cabinet can be used in homes, schools, or businesses to keep power running after a storm. Not only that, these batteries are a great way for battery owners to take control of energy costs, get more from their solar panels, and be less reliant on importing dirty power from the regional electricity grid.
Two states in New England have already seen the value of in-home batteries and have begun to forge ahead with in-home battery storage programs. Vermont launched a pilot program in 2017, and a New Hampshire utility just reached a milestone agreement for a pilot program of its own. Liberty Utilities, CLF, and others developed the Granite State’s cutting-edge program over the past year; the last hurdle before being rolled out is gaining approval from the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission.
These pilots come at a critical time. The latest climate assessments warn that we have less time than we thought to end our addiction to polluting fossil fuels, or else risk dramatic destabilization of our economy, infrastructure, and environment from climate change. We expect the Vermont and New Hampshire battery programs will help to spur the growth of local clean energy in New England and beyond.
Connecting In-Home Batteries with Local Clean Energy
Batteries pair excellently with clean energy sources such as rooftop solar. They allow you to store up extra energy your solar panels produce and use it when you want to – for instance, when energy prices are highest and everyone is cranking up their air conditioners after getting home from work in the summer.
We sometimes call these small, at-home batteries distributed battery storage, because they can be distributed widely in homes, schools, and businesses – or even provide critical backup power at hospitals and police stations. While batteries can also be used on a large scale to replace power plants, these small distributed batteries help us keep our energy local.
This in turn helps to keep our air clean and or climate safe by avoiding the need for dirty backup diesel generators when power lines are down, maximizing the benefits of rooftop solar power, and supporting our electricity grid when power demand is high. (This last benefit means we don’t need to import as much energy over the interstate electric transmission system, so can build fewer wires and poles and turn on fewer dirty power plants on hot afternoons.)
The new home pilot program in the Granite State seeks to demonstrate all of this. New Hampshire utility Liberty Utilities will work with private clean energy companies to install a total of 1,000 batteries in New Hampshire homes over the next several years, starting with 200 deeply discounted Tesla Powerwall batteries.
After Liberty demonstrates that it can use these batteries to save money as expected, Liberty has the green light to add up to 300 more batteries, and private companies will install another 500. Unlike Vermont’s battery storage program, New Hampshire’s pilot allows for these private clean energy innovators to work with customers directly, rather than only working with the utility itself.
How Battery Storage Saves Individual Homeowners Money
Home batteries work by storing electricity for when you need it. Homeowners can charge the batteries at night when electricity rates are low or – even better – via their rooftop solar panels. Pairing batteries with solar is not only the clean choice, it also has the potential to offer homeowners extra financial benefits through a policy known as net metering, which provides credits to solar panel owners who send their surplus power back to the grid.
The New Hampshire pilot also includes a time-of-use-rate feature. This lets participants see when electricity costs are high and adjust their behaviors accordingly. They’ll be able to shift their energy consumption – say, running the washing machine or dishwasher – to times when energy is less expensive. They can also use their stored energy when prices are high to save money. Together, net metering, time-of-use rates, and batteries can encourage more home and business owners to adopt clean rooftop solar energy.
As an added bonus, homes with battery storage systems won’t have to rely on dangerous, dirty diesel generators when storms knock out the electricity.
How We All Benefit from Battery Storage
The energy stored in the batteries can not only help power the homes they’re installed in, but can be drawn on for the benefit of all Liberty customers. Using high-tech software, Liberty will access the power stored in those batteries when it anticipates that energy demand and prices will spike, such as on very hot afternoons. This way Liberty won’t have to import higher-cost power from dirty power plants elsewhere in the region to meet big upticks in local electricity demand. (If their power isn’t needed, these out-of-state power plants may not have to turn on at all, which spares us all from the pollution and climate-damaging emissions they would spew into the air.)
Using battery storage to cut back on imported power on hot days has a significant overall economic advantage. In fact, the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission staff has concluded that the 15-year pilot will provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits to all of Liberty’s 40,000 customers.
The Big Picture of Small-Scale Battery Storage
Small-scale battery storage is a powerful way to save families and businesses money and combat climate change. It can help us avoid using fossil fuels. It can allow New England to use fewer big power plants and transmission lines. And it complements solar by saving up that clean power for the quiet, dark hours of the day.
CLF has urged the NH Public Utilities Commission to approve this important pilot program. We should all support well-designed battery storage pilots like this one and encourage our lawmakers and state agencies to help push them forward.