Los Angeles schools save ‘significant’ money on bills with battery storage

Battery storage project by ENGIE in Germany. Image: ENGIE Deutschland.

The board of education at a California school district which found that it could use batteries to reduce energy bills at seven learning facilities by US$5.7 million has contracted ENGIE Storage to deliver 3.5MW / 7MWh of energy storage systems.

ENGIE Storage announced the lithium-ion battery projects for Downey Unified School District in Downey, Los Angeles - which will split the battery capacity across separate systems coordinated by the company’s GridSynergy software - last week.

Downey Unified School District Superintendent Dr John Garcia said the schools’ board is “always looking for creative ways to save money and energy storage will provide our district with utility cost savings” and said that energy storage would, starting with this year, reduce energy bills significantly “for years to come”.

The district was able to fund the projects through California’s Proposition 39 legislation, which assists with energy efficiency and clean energy generation and use by schools. It will save US$5.7 million for Downey Unified over the next decade or so that the batteries will be in use, by reducing the amount of energy drawn from the grid at times when the air conditioning is running or stadium lights are in use, for example.

The peak energy used by schools is billed for by the state’s Investor-Owned Utilities in the same way that it is for commercial entities - so-called Demand Charges are levied each month based on those peaks, seen from the utility side of the meter as spikes in grid usage. Demand Charges can constitute as much as 50% of energy bills and although energy storage cannot mitigate them entirely, these charges in California have, on average, grown 80% in the past 10 years and the savings are still considered significant.

In addition to saving the district millions of dollars, the energy storage projects will “help enhance the reliability of California’s electric grid by reducing the strain on overloaded utility distribution networks,” ENGIE Storage CEO Christopher Tilley said. The company, known as Green Charge prior to takeover by ENGIE, has already executed projects at 80 schools.

As far back as 2017, solar industry veteran Jigar Shah told Energy-Storage.news that energy storage was even then a compelling proposition for school districts in North America, as his company Generate Capital delivered Sharp SmartStorage units coupled with solar for Santa Rita Union School District (SRUSD), also in California.

At that time, Shah said that although the energy bill savings were one component of the value proposition, energy resiliency and in that particular case, the option to use the storage systems as backup power had really got the project over the line with decision makers.

On the technical side, ENGIE Storage touted the role its software will play in controlling and managing the 3.5MW / 7MWh of systems at Downey Unified. The cloud-based GridSynergy software calculates optimal charge and discharge cycles for the batteries based on historical and real-time data and can “continually adapt to the district’s energy needs”, the ENGIE release said.

The news comes not long after Energy-Storage.news reported that newly contracted community solar-plus-storage systems ENGIE Storage is delivering in Massachusetts will join the New England ISO wholesale electricity markets, another pathway to deployment for battery storage in the US that many see as widening over the next few years, with Sunrun also awarded a similar contract for services aggregated across 20MW of interconnected residential behind-the-meter systems in New England. 

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