Evolving Energy Storage

Energy Storage has come to be referred to by superlatives such as “missing link”, “holy grail” and “game changer”, especially for two evolving and interrelated markets: the smart grid and electric vehicles.  Certainly the right combination of technology, product configuration and price can have an enabling and potentially disruptive impact in both sectors.

With respect to the grid, the smart grid and the smarter grid, the increasing deployment of energy storage technologies will add to grid stabilization and its ability to meet short term changes in demand and absorb variabilities in production.  The need to meet short term changes in demand, also known as ‘frequency regulation’ is met by the requirement, projected daily, to maintain electrical production reserves, often referred to as ‘spinning reserves’.  The maintenance of these reserves is not only expensive, but ties up production capacity that might be otherwise utilized.  Energy storage systems built into the grid begin to change its fundamental character from a strictly real-time production and delivery system (power is made and consumed nearly simultaneously) to one which has live ‘inventory’ for the first time.  This buffering, stabilizing, inventory storage reserve capability, will be a key driver in the growth of large energy storage systems and will improve the overall efficiency of the grid.

The other side of this grid coin, the ability of energy storage to absorb variabilities in production, is the key to integrating many renewable energy technologies into the grid supply chain in an increasingly robust and significant way.  It goes nearly without saying that many renewable energy technologies are variable producers of energy, solar and wind having the highest variability.  With the confluence of advancing communications and control technologies as part of the smart grid, new energy storage systems will also enable the increased utilization of distributed and smaller decentralized generation assets.

Electric vehicles (EV) and their various cousins (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles – PHEVs, Extended Range Electric Vehicles, etc.) likewise constitute major emerging markets for energy storage systems.  Simultaneously they represent an enormous challenge and opportunity as they interface with the grid.  The challenges are many: the need for increased generating capacity; matching grid capabilities with market expansion needs; command, control and communication issues for recharging as the smart grid evolves; physical infrastructre to support EV requirements; etc.

On the other hand, they also represent an opportunity for adding myriads of energy storage systems to the grid, and thereby increasing its buffering capacity, at the very least on a local level.  At last year’s Utility of the Future conference held in Washington, David Mohler, the chief technology officer of Duke Energy noted “I think PHEVs will be the killer application for the smart grid…  They are able to both consume and provide energy like no other device can and can really change storage.”

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