July 27, 2015

Industrial Battery Maker Appears at Legislature to Boost Case for Renewable Energy Legislation in North Carolina

Republican Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County been criticized by some on the political right for sponsoring a bill that he says could vastly grow the amount of solar-powered electricity production in North Carolina.

On Wednesday Szoka addressed one of complaints by bringing the representative of industrial battery maker Alevo to the legislature to make a presentation about its products. Alevo's batteries are designed to store electricity for utility companies, including electricity from solar farms and wind farms, to help them maintain a consistent supply.

“One of the criticisms that I’ve received is always, ’What happens when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow?’ because of the intermittency of the power,” Szoka said. “This is what happens when you find a technological answer to a technological problem -- then there’s your answer.”

The Swiss-based Alevo, whose U.S. headquarters is in a former cigarette manufacturing plant in Concord north of Charlotte, is developing battery packs the size of bulk shipping containers. Company vice president Jeffrey Gates discussed its work and plans before a group of about 60 people that included lawmakers, legislative staff and others.

Alevo’s products aren’t just for renewables such as solar and wind power plants, Gates said. The company says its batteries can reduce the costs of operating traditional coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants. Its equipment is intended to store excess electricity generated in off-peak times, such as at night, and then inject the power into the grid during periods of peak usage that strain the utilities’ generation capacity.

The company has been in discussions with Duke Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, Gates said, and it will soon be shipping batteries to clients in China and Turkey.

It hopes to announce additional customers by the end of the year, he said.

Gates said the company operates in North Carolina without monetary incentives from the government -- it doesn’t want any, he said. But it would like the state to adjust its utility regulations to encourage Duke to operate a large-scale experimental trial with Alevo.

Gates suggested that the state could give Duke permission to pass along to rate-payers the costs if the experiment fails. If the experiment succeeds, the company could pass along the savings to the customers, he said.

Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless said the companies have talked, but could not address any legislation that Alevo may want.

Duke is already using and experimenting with battery storage, Wheeless said. The company has 15 percent of all the grid-connected battery storage in the country, he said.

Gates cited some of Duke’s projects, including several in North Carolina, in his presentation at the legislature.

Szoka’s renewables energy bill would make it easier for electricity customers to install solar or other renewable energy systems on their properties.

Under existing law, a customer either has to buy from the local electric utility or purchase and install his own alternative generation equipment. The customer is not allowed to buy power from a third party.
It can be expensive to buy and maintain solar panels and other equipment.

Szoka’s bill would let the customer avoid the up-front expense and maintenance. He wants to allow people and businesses pay a third party company to install the generation equipment. This could be a solar farm on a large warehouse, for example.

The third party company would own the equipment on the customer’s property and sell the power generated to the customer.


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