May 16, 2024 | Eric Geerlings, PE

BESS Development for Beginners

Battery Energy Storage Systems—or BESS for short—have surged in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. For one, they can provide equity benefits, such as providing revenue generation and energy resilience to communities that install them in a microgrid. For grid operators and utilities, they provide instantaneous power and sustain output for hours to help alleviate stress on the grid. Initial BESS developments have already proven their value in benefitting today’s society.

While the increase in BESS development is undeniable, navigating its complexities is still challenging. Before diving into the development process, let’s start with the basics – what is a BESS?

BESS Basics

BESS is an industry term for large sets of batteries that store electricity and release it when needed. Depending on the type of BESS, owners do one of two things.

  1. BESS owners purchase electricity from a power generation plant or the grid itself when it’s relatively cheap and sell it back to the grid for transmission and distribution purposes.
  2. BESS owners purchase electricity from the grid and deploy that energy “behind the meter” at a facility in ways that lower their energy costs and can provide backup power.

Amongst these two options, BESS is used for various markets, including the utility-scale energy sector, the commercial and industrial sectors, and even community resilience hub projects.

Depending on the site, there can be handfuls to 100s of battery enclosures, each holding 100s to 1,000s of individual battery cells. When purchasing energy, each battery enclosure charges and stores electricity; then, when demanded, groups of battery enclosures take turns supplying it.

Understanding BESS as a technology alone can be daunting, so understanding the development of BESS sites adds another layer of complexity. Not only are there engineering challenges, as there are with any site development, but there’s also the challenge of understanding and completing the unique initial steps for BESS development.

BESS Development Overview

Although no two development projects are identical, each go through preliminary site assessment, feasibility, permitting, and planning phases.

Analyzing locations and their feasibility

Unique location analysis and feasibility studies are completed based on the BESS development. Behind-the-meter developments typically have a predetermined site—as they often already own the property or facility before they decide they want to install a BESS to address their specific needs. BESS developments looking to plug into the grid typically analyze potential and affordable site locations based on their grid-use: transmission or distribution.

Each location opportunity is analyzed to determine which are the most viable options for the developer. Potential sites are selected, and a critical issue analysis is performed.

A critical issue analysis evaluates a sites existing ecological and cultural resources, including an initial environmental site assessment. From this analysis, the developer receives a realistic view of potential sites, allowing them to determine which one is the most feasible and lowest-risk option for their development. Depending on what the client is looking for, one or multiple sites are identified that require a permitting matrix.

Completing the permitting matrix can be one of the most difficult steps in the development process. A BESS development may require many permits on local, state, and regional levels. Without previous experience, it is hard to navigate which permits need to be completed, for whom, and by when. Because of this, a comprehensive permitting matrix is used to outline the required permits from each agency and what each permit authorizes a developer to do.

Site plans and zoning ordinances

Based on the various permitting steps needed, challenges get multiplied. Because BESS developments are relatively new, many local municipalities don’t have clear regulations in their zoning ordinances, requiring additional consultation and coordination. On top of the ordinance constraints, developers still need to meet each state’s laws to permit any proposed impacts to wetlands, streams, and floodplains. There may also be federal or state permitting required related to threatened and endangered species.  

Concurrently, the developer works to complete an interconnection application with the applicable transmission grid operator or distribution grid utilities. Additionally, oversight of energy grid operators comes from state, federal, or regional authorities, whose laws and reporting expectations surrounding grid interconnection may change over time, adding to the developer’s uncertainties.

Everything scales for BESS developments, meaning that larger projects are typically more challenging to develop than smaller projects. Each development starts off with a baseline of research costs, financial risks, and permitting applications, scaling upward as the size of the BESS increases in energy and, therefore, project complexity.

For example, utility-scale BESS developments have the highest complexity. This is largely because the developer must work with their region’s Independent System Operator (ISO) – described by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as an independent entity responsible for operating the transmission system to ensure non-discriminatory access to power for retail consumers – to obtain their interconnection agreement. Starting the process to obtain this agreement costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there are significant additional costs throughout various stages of technical review. Depending on other power generation development projects in the queue, the entire process can take years to complete.

ISO regions from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (diagram credit)

Overall, achieving all essential regulatory approval requires a tremendous amount of work, expertise, attention to detail, and immense coordination between all stakeholders involved. As a result, it is common for developers to partner with civil and electrical engineering consultants to minimize risk, improve development efficiency, and ensure the project’s success.

Planning BESS development

The planning and development of the BESS involves many services. Depending on the client’s in-house services, a professional consulting firm can provide ALTA land surveys, ecological assessments, conceptual plans, site plans, and more. Again, the order of each service is dependent on client preferences and could be rearranged or even concurrent.

Juggling the many multi-functional elements of the approval process and developing the BESS to connect to the grid by the ISO-agreed-upon deadline can be incredibly stressful. By bringing in expert consulting firms, you can ensure you complete the appropriate steps, avoid showstopping hurdles, receive recommendations, and be guided down the most efficient and correct path.

From identifying potential BESS development sites to creating site plan deliverables, Metro Consulting Associates (MCA) can help developers every step of the way. Not only is MCA experienced in tackling new projects and willing to go above and beyond to help the client achieve all requirements, but we’ve also developed relationships with many Michigan municipalities and can provide the local presence often needed to ensure smooth permitting and the overall success of the project.

If that’s not enough, we’ve grown a diverse portfolio from working with various power and energy projects, including previous BESS developments ranging from 100kWh to 400MWh capacity.

To learn more about MCA’s renewable energy services, and how we can set up your next BESS project with success, contact us today!

About The Author

Eric Geerlings, PE

With over a decade of engineering and development consulting experience, Eric is passionate about expanding renewable energy production via utility scale, distribution level, and point of use projects.

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