Energy Storage

DEED grant winner works with Braintree on storage research

Andres Vasquez, an electrical engineering student at Boston University, is leading a team of college seniors researching battery chemistry in conjunction with storage efforts currently underway at the Braintree Electric Light Department, in Massachusetts.

The collaboration was jump started with a $5,000 Technical Design Project grant from the American Public Power Association’s Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments (DEED) program. The DEED program supports public power research through project grants and scholarships. The grant was awarded and the project began in the fall of 2017 and is scheduled for completion in April 2018.

Vasquez says, “each team is assigned a customer. The customer can be a professor, or it can be a company in the greater Boston area. Our customer was Braintree Electric Light Department, a utility company outside of Boston.” Vasquez originally proposed a project researching how electric vehicle batteries can be used to supply power to the grid but Braintree wanted something more specific.

Tim Leung is an electrical engineer with Braintree. He says, “A lot of munis like us are trying to expand more into battery storage, so one of the customer requirements I presented to the team was testing three different battery chemistries. We wanted to know after discharging how depleted each battery type is along with which one can charge or discharge quicker.”

Braintree Electric is currently in the middle of adding 2 megawatts / 4.2 megawatt hours of storage to one of its substations in collaboration with Borrego Solar Systems, which received a $700,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The project is expected to reduce energy and transmission capacity costs for Braintree Electric and its customers. The new system will employ lithium ion batteries.

The students’ project is comparing lithium ion with two older battery technologies that are getting a second look from utilities, lead acid and nickel cadmium. The students are building a physical model to test the three chemistries against each other. 

Vasquez says, “we’re shrinking and scaling down a complete power system to the size of a coffee table.” The biggest challenge is integrating the battery into a system. “There’s no user manual out there. This is kind of a new topic – the bi-directional flow of power.”

Michele Suddleson, DEED Program Director at the Association, said that this project “allows students to work on a real-world utility challenge that is top of mind in the energy industry today - storage. Their research approach, modeling several batteries to determine how they compare on cost effectiveness, efficiency, and grid stability can be replicated at other utilities interested in evaluating storage options for their community.”

Leung and Vasquez both believe the experience sparked by the grant is helping to draw young engineering talent to the utility industry.  Leung says, “we value the senior design team working on this project in parallel with us. I think it’s definitely a good direction to move in their careers.” 

Vasquez says, “I’m interested in sustainable power systems in general.” Vasquez noted that he has heard that utilities have an abundance of senior workers who are in the retirement stage of their careers. “My second main interest is power systems in general or anything that has anything to do with the transmission of energy. So, working for a utility is something I’d like to do in the future.”    

The grant also includes $3,000 in travel funds which will be used to showcase the students’ work at the Association’s Engineering & Operations Technical Conference, which is being held April 29-May 2, in Raleigh, North Carolina.