Energy done right – a combination of solar, storage, and a challenging environment. I like to show examples of people and companies that do their energy work well. Here’s a good one.

The companies in this case are HDR, an engineering firm with a strong Carolinas presence, and a small utility called Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO). The project is in the sound of northwest Washington state, a place packed with remote islands.

“The archipelago’s energy supply comes from hydropower generated in mainland Washington and Oregon, transmitted by aging submarine cables that cross the Salish Sea to serve 20 islands,” says an HDR story. OPALCO is establishing a baseline of energy independence using clean, renewable energy. Decatur Island’s community solar project has been paired with battery storage. (Battery set-up, below)

HDR says there are three benefits to the island:

  • Extending the life of the submarine cable by three years: The battery will charge when power demand is low, and discharge when demand is high, reducing the cable’s maximum load.
  • Saving money for members: Peak load — the most expensive power — from the submarine cable will be reduced.
  • Building independence and grid reliability: Intermittent energy generated from the solar array will be stored and dispatched using a more controlled, strategic system. Using lithium ion batteries, the project is designed to supply four hours of backup power during an outage.

The project is a one-megawatt, 2.6 MWh large scale battery storage system. It can power ~500 homes for 4 hours. The battery is fed by a 504 kW DC solar array making about 570,000 kWh per year. Solar started in 2018.

The value proposition of the battery system was to not need to replace subsea cable soon,” the project engineer told ECC. “The lifetime of the subsea cables is dictated by electric strain each day. If you peak-shave you reduce wear and tear on the cable.”

Washington’s Commerce Department also says that the project will “improve reliability of the current infrastructure while speeding the transition to locally produced renewable energy.”

The project has the research and development backing of Pacific Northwest Laboratory, and backing of the Clean Energy Fund of Washington state.

The Decatur Island Project proves several things. For one, there’s no one technical application that improves our energy future. It is a combination of energy technologies. Also, look what can happen with intelligence and teamwork!


Feature image from HDR video about the project.