Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on January 4, 2016.

Powering Gotham

New York City emerges as an epicenter of the energy storage revolution. BY JESSE ROMAN

In November, NFPA, in collaboration with the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) and the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), hosted an energy storage system (ESS) safety workshop in New York City for an assortment of leading ESS stakeholders. It was no accident that the city was the setting for a high-level ESS meeting—New York has quickly become an epicenter of the emerging energy storage revolution.

In 2014, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a sweeping new energy policy, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), intended, among other things, to spur the adoption of more clean energy and make the city’s electric grid more reliable. To achieve its goals, the state now offers incentives for adopters of new technologies such as energy storage, and is easing regulations “to better align utility interests with . . . the [state’s] policy objectives,” according to the REV website.

As a result, New York’s largest utility, ConEdison, is now investing heavily in ESS and encouraging its customers to as well. The utility has a few motivations, namely the REV incentives, and the fact that the city has a serious energy crunch, said Amaury De La Cruz, who manages ConEdison’s Demand Management Program.

Each of the three ConEdison networks that supply electric power to Queens and Brooklyn are nearly at capacity, and the demand for electricity is forecast to soon exceed it, De La Cruz said. Gov. Cuomo is also pushing to close the nearby Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, which generates enough electricity to power 2 million homes, according to Entergy, the plant’s owner. To ease pressure, ConEdison and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority are offering additional incentives on top of the REV perks to building owners and managers who decrease consumption during peak demand, with ESS as the centerpiece of the Demand Management Program.

According to ConEdison, regulators in New York have already approved 39 ESS projects totaling 70 megawatts of storage as part of the program, with more in the pipeline. “We see ESS as a technology that will continue to be in high demand going forward, because of how beneficial it is to our customers and the state’s goals,” said De La Cruz, who spoke at NFPA’s ESS workshop in the fall.

To deal with the increasing number of energy storage applications, New York City regulators have developed a comprehensive, albeit makeshift, process for evaluating ESS applications on a case-by-case basis, including assembling a panel of experts to look over plans and requiring a safety sign off from FDNY. However, much more needs to be done from a responder standpoint, according to Lt. Paul Rogers, a hazardous materials expert with FDNY, including developing pre-incident planning, training, a better understanding of how to safely extinguish a fire involving ESS, and what to do after a fire is extinguished.

Meanwhile, ESS installations continue throughout the city. In March, as part of the REV initiative, a company called American Vanadium will install three large flow batteries, called CellCubes, on the roof of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 25-story headquarters in Manhattan. According to the manufacturer, the system will use roughly 28,500 kilograms (62,831 pounds) of electrolyte, the fluid that transfers charges inside the batteries. Between the three CellCubes, the system will have a 390 kWh capacity, enough to power as many as 30 homes.

The project has received a "no objection" letter from FDNY, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. “We asked them what emergency action plan they have to bring the [electrolyte] up to fill the battery tanks, and they said they're bringing it in containers through the building itself,” Rogers said. “I asked them what happens if there’s a leak, and they said there wouldn’t be a leak. Those things need to be addressed, too. We need an emergency action plan. If something goes wrong, what are you going to do?”

​JESSE ROMAN is staff writer for NFPA Journal.  He can be contacted at jroman@nfpa.org.  Top Photograph: Shutterstock.