The Long-Awaited Massachusetts Energy Storage Target Has Arrived

Basketball fans have March Madness, political junkies get a big election every four years, and the Oscars roll around every February. For energy storage buffs, moments of collective anticipation are harder to come by.

Friday is as good as it gets, thanks to the long-awaited release of Massachusetts’ energy storage procurement target. Following a law passed last summer, the Department of Energy Resources took until the close of 2016 to decide a target was a good idea, and then had until July to name a number.

And the number is: 200 megawatt-hours by 2020.

That target comes with additional sweeteners like $10 million in additional funding for demonstration projects and a pledge to investigate eligibility for storage systems under the state Alternative Portfolio Standard. And, depending on how this first round goes, the DOER may add another target after 2020.

“Massachusetts’ biggest storage needs are tied to reducing peak loads, and through a megawatt-hour target, the DOER is setting a clever path for utilities to have the option of cutting peak load for longer durations, or to design plans to procure more short duration storage,” said Ravi Manghani, energy storage director at Greentech Media.

This mandate comes in lower than California’s 1.3 gigawatts, as is to be expected, but much higher than Oregon’s curiously unambitious target of 5 megawatt-hours per utility.

Achieving this will mark a big step up from the few megawatts installed in the state today, with nothing at the commercial scale and just 180 kilowatts of residential, according to GTM Research.

At first glance, the target looks small compared to the 600 megawatts suggested by the State of Charge report released by Massachusetts in September. That analysis found that 1,766 megawatts would optimize system benefits for ratepayers, but concluded that 600 by 2025 was more feasible and would save the state’s ratepayers $800 million in system costs. That level of storage would equate to roughly 5 percent of the state’s peak load.

However, the timeline is different: Achieving 200 megawatt-hours by 2020 could well set the state on a path to hit 600 megawatts by 2025. (Note the difference in units, as well.)

The storage industry rallied behind the 600-megawatt level as a good starting point after the report came out last year.

“The state can and should go higher — the industry has shown time and again that it is ready to respond quickly, at scale, when given a big enough market signal,” Ted Ko, director of policy at commercial storage company Stem, told me back in January.

A strong industry showing in the next two and a half years could convince the government to move on to that larger target, rather than stopping at 2020.

The top-line number is not the only meaningful element, though. The way the target addresses different use cases, ownership models, system sizes and technology types will shape what kind of market grows there. Massachusetts is staying agnostic on a lot of those factors.

“The target sets a flexible goal for the electric distribution companies to identify the most cost-effective applications and the best locations for energy storage deployment, including both…front-of-the-meter and behind-the-meter applications,” the administration said in a statement.

There are plenty of rules and policies under Massachusetts’ control on which the state can act quickly, like adding storage as a qualified technology under the Alternative Portfolio Standard. To unlock the full potential value of storage, though, the ISO would need to change certain rules governing the wholesale electricity markets for energy, capacity and ancillary services.

“California had the luxury of an ISO that has jurisdiction in a single state,” Manghani said previously.

“ISO New England has to work across multiple New England states. That could cause some friction. Without the successful and wholehearted participation of ISO New England, the mandate would lose some of its effectiveness.”

The Bay State is now open for storage business, with a fairly short runway to get going. The state already hosts a cluster of storage companies, many of which spun out of MIT research. They’ll be joined by the California players in a race to supply the state with the legally required deployments.

New York state will follow close behind. The legislature there has asked for a storage target by the end of the year. After a period of West Coast dominance, the U.S. storage industry is going bicoastal.


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