June 21, 2018

NYPA, Brenmiller Energy and Purchase College Launch Demonstration Project for Innovative Thermal Energy Storage Technology

Marissa Gillett; Vice President, External Relations, Energy Storage Association

The collaboration is one of many projects expected to deploy as part of New York State’s newly announced Energy Storage Roadmap to jumpstart the development of this clean energy technology and guide New York toward its nation-leading energy storage target of 1,500 megawatts by 2025. Read the news release here.  In today’s inaugural posting for the new Energy Storage Association (ESA) blog, Spotlight on Storage, we turn to a recently unveiled collaboration between ESA member companies New York Power Authority (NYPA) and Brenmiller Energy, who partnered on an innovative thermal energy storage project at Purchase College, State University of New York (SUNY).  The joint R&D project between NYPA and Brenmiller will investigate thermal energy storage as a means to increase the efficiency of a standard combined heat and power system. At no cost to the College, a new system will be installed specifically to support the gym, replacing the aging district heating loop from the College’s central heating plant, which is projected to save the State University of New York about $100,000 per year.

Recently, I caught up with representatives from both NYPA and Purchase College to discuss the genesis for this particular project, how it fits into both the College’s and Governor Cuomo’s sustainability goals, and what’s different about this particular application of thermal energy storage.

Question (Marissa Gillett, ESA VP of External Relations):  How did the partnership between NYPA, Brenmiller Energy and Purchase College come together?

Answer (Alan Ettlinger, Director of Research, Technology Development and Innovation, and Steven Wilkie, Senior Research and Technology Development Engineer):

“The New York Power Authority is continuously investigating new and innovative technologies that further our efforts for the betterment of New York State and our customers. Brenmiller Energy, an Israeli developer and manufacturer of thermal energy storage systems, asked us to collaborate on a research and development project that would increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the power industry.  We agreed to partner on the design, build and demonstration of a high temperature storage-based combined heat and power (CHP) system.

The project received a $1 million grant from the Israel-United States Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation and Purchase College, SUNY, was approached as a demonstration site given its prior interest in energy efficiency projects and location within the NYC metropolitan area.”

Question (Gillett): Thermal energy storage – or the concept of capturing heat and cold to create energy on demand – is not new; rather it’s one of the six main categories of storage resources deployed on today’s electric grid. But, this project seems to be a different take. Can you describe how the approach showcased at the Purchase College demonstration project is similar to, but also different from, traditional thermal storage applications?

Answer (NYPA Ettlinger and Wilkie):

“This approach involves sensible heat storage, which is one of the most common methods of heat storage. However, Brenmiller Energy’s technology involves a unique configuration where the storage media, heat exchangers and steam generator are integrated in a single modular unit, where the storage medium (crushed rock) allows for the operation at much higher temperatures and pressures to achieve a higher energy density in a more efficient and cost competitive manner.  The approach differs from traditional thermal storage applications, which are constrained both in downscaling (e.g. molten salt) and operation at higher temperatures and pressures (e.g. concrete).  The intent here is to demonstrate increased efficiency of storage-based CHP compared to standard CHP, and the ability to productize the solution at a scale of single MW, which has been the barrier of thermal storage technology.”  

Image Provided by New York Power Authority

Question (Gillett):  How will you measure the success of the Purchase demonstration project? In particular, what can the customer hope to realize during the life of the project? Any impact to the grid at large?

Answer (NYPA Ettlinger and Wilkie):

“The project will be compared to a standard CHP (i.e. without storage) operating in a similar environment. Researchers will look for a demonstrated increase in energy efficiency, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and a more competitive cost.

Purchase College, SUNY, hopes to realize an annual energy savings of about 10,000 MMBtu (million British thermal units) and an annual greenhouse gas reduction of about 550 MTCO2e (metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions), or an energy savings of about 200,000 MMBtu and greenhouse gas reduction of about 11,000 MTCO2e over the 20-year life of the system.

As the use of intermittent renewable energy resources increases, cost-competitive solutions are needed to ensure reliability and resiliency of the grid. Thermal energy storage technology could increase the number of viable CHP sites currently constrained by system efficiency and currently not considered a good economic investment.”

Question (Gillett):  NYPA administers or participates in a wide-ranging portfolio of advanced initiatives and programs. How does the demonstration project at Purchase College fit into NYPA’s strategic vision?

Answer (NYPA Ettlinger and Wilkie):

“Investigating and demonstrating innovative technology in pursuit of low-cost, reliable and energy efficient solutions is fundamental to the Power Authority’s mission. This project will allow us to gather data in furtherance of our efforts of becoming the first end-to-end “digital utility” in the nation. It’s also one of many that support Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s goal of developing a cleaner and more resilient energy system, and accelerates progress to deploy 1,500 MW of energy storage by 2025 and a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.”

Question (Gillett):  I understand that Purchase College is renowned for its long-term commitment to sustainability. Can you speak to the motivation for this particular project from the College’s perspective, and also how it fits into the College’s other energy-saving initiatives?

Answer (Thomas Kelly, Senior Energy Manager, Purchase College, SUNY):

“Even before sustainability was at the forefront of public concern, Purchase College, founded in 1967, was constructed with sustainability principles in mind. Rather than building across its 500+ acres, the college was built to utilize its space efficiently and preserve the environment. Today, approximately 40% of the campus remains undeveloped.

Environmental stewardship and sustainability are embedded into Purchase College’s governance, culture and academics, as well as the operational areas of planning, design, construction, transportation, food service, energy use and waste. 

Approximately a decade ago, through the work of students, faculty, staff and administration, a concerted effort was made to assess sustainability which led to the creation of the college’s first sustainability officer and the college signing the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment. As an effort to further sustainability and be responsive to several state initiatives like Executive Order 88, the college created a new position for an energy manager five years ago.

The college has implemented and will continue to implement a variety of energy efficiency projects. In the last Executive Order 88 assessment, the college’s energy usage reduction was in the top 5 of best performing SUNY schools. Approximately 30% of its lighting uses LED as a large-scale lighting project was recently completed in the library, performing arts center and campus roadways.

The CHP thermal energy storage system project has several goals including reducing operational expenses, increasing resiliency, assisting the state’s mission of installing 1,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2025 and educating students and the community about energy conservation and efficiency.” 

Question (Gillett):  Anything else you want to add about the Purchase College demonstration project? Anything else you want the industry or policymakers to know about thermal storage in general?

Answer (NYPA Ettlinger and Wilkie):

Thermal energy storage has applications in the power industry, other than the one being implemented at Purchase College, SUNY. One example is electricity-to-electricity, where a storage unit can be charged using electric heaters and the thermal energy discharged as steam to drive a steam turbine to produce electricity. The system represents an alternative to battery storage with potentially greater discharge durations.  Thermal energy storage is designed to shift large amounts of energy over long periods of time, thereby providing an effective solution over other technologies when grid scale energy storage of long duration is required.  In addition, thermal energy storage, unlike other solutions, is robust and does not degrade over time with each charge/discharge cycle. “

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