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Resilience and Batteries

Resilience and batteries. While the combination of these two terms may sound foreign to the average ear, for those in the solar and renewable energy sector, the two are almost inseparable. In Here Comes Solar’s (HCS) first installment of our “Solar Powerhouse Spotlight” series which highlights leaders in the field and community, we had the opportunity to catch up with Derek Nelson, former Senior Associate of HCS’s Resilient Solar Team and current Renewable Energy Project Manager at the New York Power Authority (NYPA). We chatted about resiliency within an urban setting, the evolution of the renewable energy field, his tenure at Solar One, and how New Yorkers can pave the way for solar energy initiatives in their communities. 

HCS: The solar, renewable, and clean energy solar field is one of innovation and growth.What was the driving force behind your interest and passion for solar? Was there anything that attracted you to exploring this sector?

DN: Honestly, my interest in the environment and climate change is driven mostly by my love of animals. I studied primate evolution in college, but made the switch to clean energy policy and advocacy when I realized the gorillas I was studying were on track for extinction by the time I hit middle age. Helping prevent that extinction started to feel much more important than understanding their evolutionary history. That could wait. 

HCS: From your time at Solar One, was there a resilience, battery project, or aspect of your role that you felt a strong connection with throughout its development and implementation?

DN: I loved every opportunity I had to show people just how excited they should be about batteries. It’s hard to overstate how transformative they can (and hopefully will!) be for the way we generate and consume electricity, but it’s also hard to describe that transformation in clear terms. I really enjoyed trying to tell a simple, compelling, and fun story about the energy storage revolution to anyone who would listen.

HCS: What will you miss the most about Solar One (aside from creating informative battery videos)? 

DN: The camaraderie with my brilliant, kind, and feisty colleagues. It’s an incredible and never-boring group of people, and I’ll dearly miss playfully arguing with them about every last thing (especially about how important nuclear power is!).

HCS: With respect to your new role at NYPA, is there something you are excited to learn and dive deeper into?

DN: I’m really excited to transition from a focus on smaller batteries that power individual buildings to larger batteries that power the grid itself. Both forms of energy storage are vital to the clean energy transition, but I’m particularly drawn to the potential of large-scale batteries to replace gas-fired plants in New York.

HCS: What do you envision will be the future of solar and renewable energy in NYC? How can fellow New Yorkers contribute to the resiliency of solar in their communities? 

DN: Every New Yorker should either have solar on their roof or, if that’s not feasible, subscribe to a community solar project. To improve resilience, though, they will have to get more creative, since batteries remain expensive and difficult to site in NYC. I think the solar plus storage projects deployed at community facilities with Solar One’s help will be the first of many in the City. After these are built, I hope they will inspire other communities to push for resilient solar at their own libraries, schools, and emergency response organizations.

What’s So Fun About Batteries?!

Chapter I. Gigawhat?

If you don’t follow energy or environmental news closely, you might be surprised by the breathless enthusiasm surrounding batteries these days. No offense to your vintage Furby, but we’re not talking about AAs – or even the high-tech lithium-ion battery in your smartphone – but a diverse cast of energy storage technologies,[note]It’s not just electrochemical batteries that can charge and discharge energy. We’ll explore some of the many other effective, ingenious, and occasionally bizarre energy storage technologies in a later post. For now, please enjoy this sneak peek: VAWyqx[/note] built at every scale, from small systems in homes and businesses to football field-sized batteries in the Australian desert.

But first, let’s define some essential terms. Note that in the energy sector, “reliability” and “resilience” have different, very specific meanings. Feel free to skim this section and return later as necessary.

          • Energy Storage – Technology that stores potential energy for later use. The most common of these is the electrochemical battery, which itself comes in various forms. Other energy storage technologies include pumped hydropower, compressed air, thermal storage, and many more.
          • Battery – A device that stores energy in one or more electrochemical cells, and discharges it in the form of electrons flowing from its negative terminal, or anode. Batteries can be single-use (e.g. alkaline) or rechargeable (e.g. lithium-ion, lead-acid, etc.). Of course, the larger-scale applications we’ll be discussing on this blog use only rechargeable batteries.
          • Reliability – A power system’s ability to maintain consistent electrical service. This system could be anything from a multi-state section of the electric grid to a tiny off-grid solar system. The fewer interruptions a system experiences, the more “reliable” it is.
          • Resilience – A power system’s ability to quickly and effectively bounce back from a service interruption. A section of the grid is “resilient” if it can quickly restore power after a blackout. A home, apartment building, or community center is “resilient” if it can provide its own power during a grid blackout, such as from a solar + storage system.
          • Solar + Storage (AKA Resilient Solar) – Shorthand for a paired solar photovoltaic (PV) and energy storage system. Most solar systems can operate during blackouts only if they are paired with energy storage. Therefore, in order to be considered “Resilient Solar,” a system must include energy storage.[note]There are exceptions to this rule. For example, some solar inverters feature AC plugs which, under good solar conditions, can be used to charge smartphones during a blackout. But for the purposes of this discussion, “Resilient Solar” always includes solar and storage.[/note]


Congratulations! You now know more about energy storage than 99% of Americans. However, you might still be wondering what exactly is so exciting about batteries.

Energy storage is revolutionizing the way energy is produced, delivered, consumed, and valued. If managed properly, this revolution will fundamentally transform the energy sector in five ways. The energy storage revolution will:

          1. Finally enable the transition to a majority-renewables grid;
          2. Abandon today’s boring, antiquated, mostly uni-directional grid for the dynamic grid of the future;
          3. Grant individuals unprecedented control over their energy profiles;
          4. Electrify the transportation sector; and
          5. Vastly improve resilience during blackouts.


    That’s a lot to take in, and far too much to dig into in one blog post. Fear not – stay tuned right here for new posts that will treat these impacts with the time and respect they deserve.

    Enough with all this blather. How will batteries affect NYC?

    To date, New Yorkers haven’t seen many cutting-edge energy storage systems installed. That’s about to change, thanks to Governor Cuomo’s new energy storage commitment – the country’s most ambitious at a whopping 1.5 gigawatts by 2025.[note]To be clear: this is the most ambitious per capita energy storage goal of any state.[/note] In terms of peak power output, that’s the equivalent of over 4.3 million solar panels.[note]Using 345-watt PV panels.[/note]

    This commitment also aims to employ 30,000 New Yorkers, and is essential to New York’s twin goals of a 50% renewable grid by 2030 and an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

    Suffice it to say that New York is leading the way on energy storage and renewable energy – or, rather, New York will lead the way. First comes the hard work of getting these technologies deployed at scale. That’s where you come in.

    In upcoming chapters, we’ll discuss how you can become the proud guardian of your very own resilient power system.

    P.S. Want to stay hip to the latest in Solar + Storage? Keep an eye on our Instagram, @ResilientNYC.



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