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Battery power storage has potential, but getting homeowners hooked up could take time

Despite his solar-charged batteries not yet being fully operational, Paul Aho (foreground) remains enthusiastic about the technology’s potential and the Energy Storage Solutions program that helped finance them. But, Aho says, “Anyone going into this should be cautioned that it’s going to be a frustratingly long period of time before the batteries are actually working.” Aho made a deposit in January for two battery modules (background) through the state’s Energy Storage Solutions program.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Despite his solar-charged batteries not yet being fully operational, Paul Aho (foreground) remains enthusiastic about the technology’s potential and the Energy Storage Solutions program that helped finance them. “Anyone going into this should be cautioned that it’s going to be a frustratingly long period of time before the batteries are actually working,” says Aho, who made a deposit in January for two battery modules (background) through the state’s Energy Storage Solutions program.

The state is trying to boost adoption of electricity-storing batteries in homes and businesses through an incentive program called “Energy Storage Solutions,” which kicked off in January.

But batteries are expensive. And the incentive program, which can provide up to $7,500 to offset installation costs and give customers payments for power fed back to the grid, is still relatively new.

All that means Connecticut consumers and batteries still need some time to connect.

“The batteries are sitting in my garage, I can look at them, [but] they’re not working yet,” said Paul Aho, a Mansfield resident who made a deposit in January for two battery modules through the state’s Energy Storage Solutions program. He has also installed solar panels.

Aho said once the batteries are working, they’ll be a clean source of backup power.

“If there’s a power outage, I can limp along with the batteries for three or four days,” he said. “Should the sun come out anytime within those three to four days, I could go even longer without the grid working.”

And while he said it was the Energy Storage Solutions program and its financial incentives that made purchasing the batteries viable, he wishes the process didn’t take so long.

“Anyone going into this should be cautioned that it’s going to be a frustratingly long period of time before the batteries are actually working,” Aho said.

Charging up the battery bureaucracy 

The Connecticut Green Bank, which is administering the incentive program in partnership with Eversource and United Illuminating, said about 200 applications for residential customers have been submitted to the Energy Storage Solutions program since January.

So far, none of those applications is fully completed, according to the Green Bank.

“We have been working very hard with the utilities these past six, seven months in getting everything up and running,” said Sergio Carrillo, director of incentive programs at the Connecticut Green Bank.

Carrillo said a mix of factors is contributing to the delay: homeowners who need the proper paperwork to connect batteries to the grid, installation contractors and battery manufacturers who need to be vetted, and simple consumer education about what batteries can – and can’t – do.

In other words, the bureaucratic gears need some time to get moving.

“The adoption has been very slow,” Carrillo said. “It might take us six more months, [then] we would expect the number of applications to skyrocket, but we’re not at that point just yet.”

How much does installing a battery cost?

Energy storage works best if the batteries at a home or business are connected to a solar array for charging. That way when the lights go out, panels can still charge the batteries and customers have access to a clean and quiet backup power source.

Carrillo said installing a battery can range from $10,000 to $15,000. But costs can go higher if a homeowner wants to install multiple modules to provide more backup power.

To help offset the costs, the Green Bank is offering homeowners an upfront incentive capped at $7,500. Although Carrillo said the typical customer would likely have to install more than one battery to get that. “In exchange for that, we’re asking the batteries to participate in what we call the ‘passive dispatch,’” Carrillo said.

In simple terms, that means utilities get first dibs on a battery’s power at certain times and can use that power to help curb peak demand – specifically, during non-holiday weekdays from June through August – between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. “The remaining nine months of the year, the homeowners can do whatever they want with the batteries,” Carrillo said.

Utilities will also – at certain times – offer customers an additional incentive when their battery power is used either for on-site power needs or fed back into the grid. This is called “active dispatch,” and utilities will cut a check to compensate customers for the power their batteries provide.

In the event of a power outage, both “passive” and “active” dispatch agreements are suspended so that customers can power their homes.

“Once you add the performance incentives that will be paid out for 10 years,” Carrillo said in an email, “a [low- to moderate-income] customer could possibly cover the installation costs entirely.”

Federal tax credits can also help with costs if the battery is connected to a solar system, he said.

What are the benefits of batteries?

Public education on energy storage batteries is still in its nascent stage. To help get the word out, the Green Bank will host a webinar about batteries and the Energy Storage Solutions program on Tuesday at 6 pm.

Carrillo said a core appeal of batteries versus fossil-fuel powered generators is that batteries can be a self-sustaining, clean and quiet power source when the lights go out.

“The batteries will be able to provide energy in the event of a power outage to homes or businesses,” Carrillo said. “Depending on the size of the battery systems, it could go from a few hours to a few days.”

Carrillo said it’s important that homeowners understand that one battery module can’t entirely power a home in the event of a power failure. But he said it can provide enough power for things like a refrigerator, lightbulbs and medical equipment. “That would give you, probably a good six, eight – 10 hours of power,” he said.

“It would be particularly helpful if the battery is tied to a [solar] system,” Carrillo said, because that ensures that during the day the solar panels can charge the batteries, which could then supply power overnight.

Once the sun comes up, Carrillo said, the cycle begins anew.

“You would be able to provide energy to your home for days, if needed,” he said.

But none of those benefits can be realized until the batteries turn on. And for that, Paul Aho, the Mansfield resident, is still waiting.

“The incentives are working properly,” Aho said. “We just need to get all the bureaucratic gears working more smoothly.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.