The first backup battery powered statehouse in the nation is nestled right here in the mountains of Montpelier, Vermont. You know what they say, “real leadership leads by example,” but what is this an example of exactly? Well, we can point to three key elements: increasing energy resilience, embracing energy independence, and creating an environmentally sustainable future in Vermont.
We are seeing a shift in energy sources toward renewables, which is an amazing first step to re-imagining how we power our lives. But the battery is what will take us across the finish line. Here’s how.
Vermonters are no strangers to power disruptions. Long snowstorms and summer thunderstorms have only increased in frequency and severity, and it is safe to assume we will remain on that trajectory. Fortunately, energy storage can provide backup power. The benefits of uninterrupted power can go without saying, but we shall. This means phone chargers, refrigerators, internet, lighting etc. can keep doing their thing when folks arguably need their essentials the most.
As we electrify more things, which is a positive transition, there is more riding on electricity being readily available. Battery backup creates lasting resilience for energy consumers.
And this resilience goes beyond one-off power outages as well. Renewable energy is more resilient than fossil fuels because they are infinite. (We’re not going to use up all the sunshine!) But batteries take renewables from good to great. Green Mountain Solar’s Project Manager and Battery Specialist, Rob Dunn says, “We need to manage the availability of the power produced. The sun isn’t always shining, the wind doesn’t always blow, and storing this energy when it is produced in excess is helpful because it can be used when it’s not being produced, which allows us to keep our lives running without interruption.”
Independence is Key
When solar panels stop producing power because it’s night, batteries can enter self-consumption mode where people can pull energy from the battery and use the power the solar panels made right on site rather than sending it back to the grid. This decreases dependence on the electric grid itself and gives homeowners and business owners more autonomy with their power—you get to decide where your power comes from, and you’re not tied into fluctuating rates.
Also, coupling battery storage with a solar enables Vermonters to maximize their solar investment by helping people avoid high grid energy costs during peak demand hours as the utilities charge more for electricity during peak events. It may be Vermont, but those AC’s are going full throttle from about 5-8pm. Knowing that the grid will already have so much demand on it, people can proactively use energy from their battery instead of drawing more from the grid to save money.
Solution for the Planet
As Vermonters, we are referring to more than just our mountainous landscape when we say we are “green.” In addition to statewide weatherization plans, initiatives for cleaning up the lake, and electrifying transportation, there is another player on the horizon that is changing the game in the state when it comes to increasing energy efficiency and fighting climate change. Enter energy storage. The ability to store energy in the form of battery backup has benefits for Vermont households and businesses, especially with pairing it with renewable energy, like solar!
Battery backup is also a solution to warding off catastrophic climate change by making electricity use efficient and accessible. Vermont’s own Bill McKibben of 350.org said, “We really do need to cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 or produce all our electricity from renewable sources within a decade.” He said this in 2010 and he also predicted that it would not happen fast enough. The past helps paint a picture for the future and if this trend tells us anything, it is that we need to get a move on it. Technology has come so far in this past decade, which means that we actually have the ability to accomplish this.
Solar is one of the most affordable and accessible forms of renewable energy, but it isn’t always consistent. Energy storage helps even out the innate inconsistencies by storing excess energy when the sun is shining and delivering it when the snow is sitting on the panels, the sun angle is low, or it is simply nighttime. “The current battery options allow home energy storage solutions for almost every scenario no matter how complex,” says Dunn.
And consider how we’ve historically handled power outages. Without a battery, the alternative form of “backup” energy when there is an outage is the typical ol’ generator. Generators run on fossil fuels (not to mention they require regular maintenance and are noisy). Batteries on the other hand, are designed for long-term functionality with minimal to no human involvement in maintenance. Plus, they’re whisper quiet.
We have the potential to generate a lot of energy from local renewables; hopefully, a direction we continue to aggressively move towards. Pairing this capability with energy storage is efficient and realistic for most people that have gone solar.
Jane Stromberg is the Outreach and Policy Coordinator at Green Mountain Solar. She also serves on the Burlington City Council.