Charged up: a giant battery will help Brandeis lower electricity costs, aid in the progress of greener power

One of the most significant challenges to the greening of the electrical grid is the ability to store large amounts of electricity generated by renewable sources that can only create power under certain conditions – when the wind is blowing to power a turbine or the sun is shining on solar panels, for example.

In an effort to help develop that technology, Brandeis is participating in an electricity storage project that will also save the campus money on its electric bill – likely in the neighborhood of $50,000 a year.

Brandeis is partnering with AMS, based in San Francisco, California, and FirstLight Power, based in Burlington, Massachusetts, which together will install and operate a huge, rechargeable, 780-kilowatt hour battery-based system that will connect with Brandeis’ electrical power system. The battery will also connect to the regional power grid and will charge overnight when the regional power system’s demand is at its lowest.

Brandeis worked closely with AMS through utility company Eversource’s Peak Demand Reduction Services program to demonstrate design, interconnection, installation and operation of large battery storage systems in Massachusetts. The result of this collaboration informed final design and regulatory approval of Eversource’s Active Demand Reduction program for batteries, which rolled out earlier this year. Brandeis and its battery storage partners plan to participate in this utility program beginning in 2020.

Large enterprises like college campuses typically pay variable rates for electricity that are set in part by supply and demand – the more demand for electricity, the more the utility charges. By charging overnight when the price of electricity is at its lowest, the battery will be able to send electricity into Brandeis’ system during the day when prices peak – enabling the university to buy less electricity at the most expensive times.

About the size of small trailer, and located at the main campus electrical meter near the soccer field, the battery will contain enough electricity to power, say, the library for an hour or more depending on conditions.

The savings would be at their most significant during the summer months when hot weather can spike electric prices. Brandeis already has a “Turn it Off” program to promote conservation during these peak periods, which help set overall electric rates for the campus. “Turn it Off” has saved tens of thousands of dollars over the past several years.

Sustainability Manager Mary Fischer explained that while the battery itself isn’t providing a new source of green electricity, “Energy storage is a key factor in expanding clean energy in our region, because it allows us to store electricity when it’s generated, then use it when it’s needed.”

“We have a proven track record of deploying clean energy on our campus, so demonstrating the business case for battery storage is a logical step in supporting the clean energy and energy storage economy,” she added.

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