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Duke Energy Investing $1 Million into Renewable Energy Storage Research

The grant will help the state of Indiana continue growing public-private partnerships necessary to reach its goal of becoming a leader in energy storage.

by Laura Lane, Herald-Times / March 31, 2014
Duke and Indiana's utility consumer counselors’ office staff agreed that research being done on how to best store energy generated from alternative sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, would be the best place to invest the money. Duke Energy

(TNS) -- If only there was a way to harness and store energy produced by windmills and solar panels, saving it for use when needed.

A $1 million research grant from Duke Energy will attempt to do just that by funding a partnership with the Battery Innovation Center near the Crane naval base and Indiana's Office of Utility Consumer Counselor.

On Monday, representatives from all three detailed how the three-way partnership will advance the goal of storing on the electric grid energy generated from the sun and the wind.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann announced the initiative during a news conference at the Statehouse. “Through this new partnership, Indiana will continue to grow the public-private partnerships necessary to bring together the talent and resources to make our state a leader in energy storage,” she said.

The million-dollar investment came about as part of a 2012 settlement resolving issues arising from ratepayer funding of the construction of Duke Energy’s power generating station in Edwardsport. The settlement capped consumer costs and required Duke to pay out millions to benefit ratepayers, including a $1 million investment in a clean-energy initiative.

Duke and the utility consumer counselors’ office staff agreed that research being done at the Battery Innovation Center on how to best store energy generated from alternative sources such as solar panels and wind turbines would be the best place to invest the money.

“We see energy storage as the future of clean energy due to the intermittent nature of renewable technology,” said Duke Energy spokeswoman Angeline Protegere. “Storage has huge potential and needs the research dollars at this time. We also focused on a project that had real-life implications, such as the schools component, which offers energy education and benefits to the communities we serve.”

She said both sides agreed on the importance of finding ways to store the increasing amount of power being generated by renewable energy sources. The research already was ongoing. “There also was a desire to leverage the good work already going on at the Battery Innovation Center.”

The $15.6 million building, dedicated in 2013, contains laboratory equipment designed to attract universities, private businesses and defense contractors seeking a place to work on new battery designs. It’s located adjacent to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, 30 miles south of Bloomington.

The new infusion of research dollars will be used to study how power generated by renewable energy sources, such as rooftop solar panels and wind turbines, can be collected, stored and then integrated into the electric grid along with traditionally generated power.

Because electricity is produced and then consumed immediately, researchers will focus on ways energy can be saved for use at a later time.

“Technology that can store energy is a way to advance renewable energy sources such as wind and solar which are clean, but not always available when power is needed,” Duke Energy Indiana President Doug Esamann said in a news release about the initiative.

A project lab that will serve as the base for the research is being created at the 32,000-square-foot battery innovation facility, located in the WestGate@Crane Technology Park. Testing is expected to begin this fall, and the plan is to have test alternative energy storage projects in two Duke Energy Indiana-powered schools this winter.

Anthony Swinger, from the utility consumer counselor’s office, said the collaborative effort to promote clean energy will benefit all Indiana consumers of electricity. “The research going on at the Battery Innovation Center needs to continue and we all agreed to put this seed money there,” Swinger said.

Protegere said it’s difficult to compute just how much power individuals and businesses are generating using wind and solar energy. A 2014 report from the Indiana Utility Regulatory commission on customer-generated energy showed that 522 customers of the state’s investor-owned utilities — not including municipal and rural electric cooperatives — generated their own power. The data, from 2013, indicated that use of wind and solar power was up 34 percent from the previous year.

Battery Innovation Center President David Roberts said in a news release that research will simulate the electric grid and evaluate hardware and battery options, as well as software to monitor and store renewable energy as it is produced.

“At the heart of energy security is having renewable energy available,” he said, “based on demand as opposed to only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.”

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