MESA, vanadium batteries put to the test in Pacific Northwest


Peter Key | Dec 01, 2015

The future of utility-scale energy storage could soon be on display in the Pacific Northwest.

Three Washington state utilities are deploying a total of five cutting-edge systems that will be evaluated by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. Three of the systems were constructed according to a set of standards designed to make utility-scale storage systems easier and cheaper to build, and two use a new type of battery system based on technology developed at the lab.

The utilities received a total of $14.3 million from the state’s Clean Energy Fund for the energy-storage projects and had to put up an equal amount themselves.

“In all three cases, it really was a situation where they wanted to try out some new technologies that could be integrated into their systems, but [the technologies] weren’t at the stage of maturity to be able to justify all of the costs” of the projects, said Tony Usibelli, the director of the Washington State Energy Office, which administers the Clean Energy Fund.

The utilities that received the funds are Bellevue-based Puget Sound Energy, Spokane-based Avista Corp. and the Snohomish County Public Utility District, which is headquartered in Everett.

The Puget Sound Energy and Snohomish PUD projects use the Modular Energy Storage Architecture – or MESA – set of specifications and standards, which were developed by a group of utilities and their suppliers. 

Puget Sound Energy, the Snohomish PUD, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and UniEnergy Technologies LLC, which is making batteries based on technology it licensed from the lab, are among the group’s founding members. Contributing members include Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy, Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy Corp. and Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp., an indication that the group has attracted some pretty big movers-and-shakers in the electric power industry and its supply chain.

MESA is meant to solve a problem that often plagues early deployments of a technology, which is that each is treated uniquely, increasing the time and effort of doing it.

“When we first got into energy storage, there was a lot of non-recurring engineering going on, so when each system was designed, we were redesigning how each component connected and communicated with each other,” said Jason Zykowski, the Snohomish PUD’s manager of substation engineering.

“MESA creates a model for power conversion systems, batteries and power control systems, so [the way they connect and communicate] doesn’t have to be recreated on every project,” Zykowski said.

The Snohomish PUD is finishing up deploying the second phase of one project and then will turn its attention to another. The utility deployed a 1-MW lithium-ion battery at a substation last year and is just finishing the deployment of a second at the same substation. It plans to use the batteries to integrate renewable generation sources into its system and to do peak shifting.

“They’ll demonstrate the MESA standards – that was one of the goals of this first system – and allow us to become familiar with energy storage and how it’s useful in our system,” Zykowski said.

The second Snohomish PUD project will feature a 2.2-MW vanadium-flow battery system made by Mukilteo, Washington-based UniEnergy Technologies. That project will enable the Snohomish PUD to evaluate the MESA standard with a vanadium-flow battery and compare the performance of a vanadium-flow battery to the performance of a lithium-ion battery.

Avista has been testing a 1 MW/3.2 MW-hour battery storage system using UniEnergy Technologies’ vanadium-flow batteries at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc. in Pullman, Washington, since April. The system stores power generated by renewable sources and distributes it when it’s needed. 

Puget Sound Energy’s project is next to a substation in Glacier, a small town in the foothills of Baker Mountain that experiences frequent power outages because it’s in the midst of a lot of very large trees. The utility is putting in a 2 MW/4.4 MW-hour lithium-ion battery system that will use controller software developed by a Seattle company, 1EnergySystems Inc., and is designed according to the MESA set of standards.

Puget Sound Energy expects to have the system fully operational by spring. The system will use power from the utility’s grid to charge itself. The utility plans to use the system to reduce demand peaks and to provide power to Glacier during outages. Ray Lane, a Puget Sound Energy spokesman, said the system would be able to power the town for about eight hours.

The Washington State Energy Office contracted the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to do an extensive technical and economic analysis of the projects, Usibelli said. Among other things, the lab will evaluate if the storage technology can be used to better integrate intermittent generation sources, such as wind and solar power, and to improve utility-system operations.

Utility-scale storage is expected to be big business in the coming decade. According to a forecast from Navigant Research, the market will exceed $2.5 billion in revenue by 2023.