By Alyssa Pressler
Storing energy in batteries, a technology that has entranced electric utilities for years, is getting closer to more widespread adoption as Duke Energy invests in small projects in Hot Springs and Asheville. The so-called microgrids would allow customers to access power for several hours during outages without waiting for reconnection to the utility’s main grid.
Duke said in late October it expects to invest $500 million in battery-storage efforts over the next 15 years, totaling about 300 megawatts of power. Among its early investments are plans for a project in mountainous, remote Hot Springs that includes a 2-megawatt solar plant and 4-megawatt battery storage facility. The solar power could sustain the town 35 miles north of Asheville during service disruptions. Fewer than 600 people live in the Madison County town, which averages 42 inches of snow annually and experiences periodic outages.
“There’s no way to reroute power to them if they lose power,” Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless says. “If [the battery] is needed, it will be able to isolate that community and keep it in power for about four to six hours. Then, in that period of time, we can likely get out and repair the power.”
In early October, Hot Springs Mayor Sidney Harrison said the town is waiting for more information about the project, which state regulators must approve.
In Asheville’s Rock Hill neighborhood, Duke plans a 9-megawatt lithium-ion battery system that Wheeless says would improve reliability and avoid expensive upgrades of power lines. No state approval is required because the Buncombe County project doesn’t include a solar component.
The projects are part of a $2 billion modernization program Duke plans in western North Carolina. It includes closing a coal plant in Asheville next year and replacing it with an $890 million natural gas-fired plant in nearby Arden. The program also includes about $714 million in improving the existing grid, including transmission and distribution upgrades; $422 million in coal-ash removal and closing ash basins; and $60 million for solar and battery-storage projects.
The goal, Wheeless says, is to strengthen the area’s electric system while avoiding more costly solutions including more power plants. No major interruptions in customer service are expected.