Gulf Power is advancing the technology

Large-scale battery storage is the wave of the energy future. But just a year ago, commercial-scale battery energy storage was so new to the Gulf Power service area, local regulatory authorities were hesitant to issue permits for the construction of the region’s first project at Gulf Power’s Douglas L. McCrary Training and Storm Center on Pine Forest Road.

The two-year project, created by Southern Company’s research and development group, has expanded understanding of large-scale battery storage and is attracting members of the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute along with others in the industry. Visitors routinely tour the site in Pensacola to learn more about the technology and its applications at a time when advances in battery energy storage technology are accelerating.

Pensacola-based McLemore Electric Inc. helped install the Battery Energy Storage project at Gulf Power’s McCrary Training & Storm Center and gained a deeper understanding of the technology.

The McCrary Training Center became the demonstration site for the battery energy storage pilot program last summer to test and evaluate a 250 kilowatt/1 megawatt-hour Tesla Powerpack lithium-ion industrial energy storage system. Its purpose is to determine the best practices for the system to be installed and operated by industrial and commercial customers to store and use energy on demand, improve resiliency as a backup energy source, shift energy usage during peak times and potentially save money on their energy bills.

The lithium-ion technology under evaluation is the same battery chemistry used in electric vehicles and consumer electronics such as laptops.

“As we look at innovative products and services to meet our customers’ needs, this kind of research helps us to better understand how battery storage technology can be applied, how it works with the grid and how it works with the demands of a customer,” said Kimberly Blair, Gulf Power spokesperson.

Gulf Power is also evaluating energy storage as a way to improve grid reliability, manage peak demand and improve the integration of renewable resources into the grid.

Southern Company’s R&D team looks forward to sharing learnings from the project with Southern Company’s operating companies and others in the electric utility industry. “We constantly explore new technologies like battery storage that can deliver clean, safe, reliable, affordable energy to customers,” said Steve Baxley, R&D manager. “With Gulf Power’s help, this collaborative project is deepening our understanding of the challenges and opportunities of battery energy storage systems.”

Collaboration between researchers and engineers at Gulf Power, Southern Company, EPRI and Tesla is a big benefit of the research project. Carl Jackson Jr., research engineer – Renewables, Storage and Distributed Generation Southern Company R&D (L), and Mark Dreadin, Gulf Power engineer, are leads for their companies on the project.

In the months since the installation, Gulf Power teammates working alongside Southern Company engineers and local electrical contractors have gained a wealth of knowledge while they built the system from the ground up and integrated it with the energy grid, the McCrary Training Center and smart technology that supports its functions.

Engineers working on this project are gaining an understanding about how temperatures influence the operational performance, how well the battery integrates with the energy grid and its lifespan. They’re creating the guide for customers to install and operate the system. Since it’s built to be portable, they’ll be determining the costs to move it.

Through the Electric Power Research Institute, Gulf Power teammates have had the added benefit of networking and sharing ideas and challenges with other teams across the country working on similar battery storage research and development.

“The goal for Gulf Power and Southern Company is to understand how these batteries integrate with the grid so we can better serve our customers as this technology becomes more common,” Blair said. “This project marks an important milestone as our employees work to build the future of energy for our customers.”