The Forgotten Piece of the Smart Grid: Energy Storage


[qi:_earth2tech] The power grid will be receiving a lot of investment and technology upgrades over the coming months, but a next-generation smart grid without energy storage is like a computer without a hard drive: severely limited. In the same way that computers and the infrastructure of the Internet have been built up around storage as a key component, the power grid will eventually rely on energy storage technology as a pivotal piece. Here’s how it works: Energy storage placed throughout the electrical network can provide dispatchable power when it’s needed the most, decreasing volatility, and also helping incorporate variable renewable energy sources (the sun shines and the wind blows only at certain times, after all).

Over the past few years energy storage technology has been largely overlooked or flat-out ignored as entrepreneurs, investors and utilities have focused on clean power generation like solar and wind. But with billions in the stimulus package allocated for advanced batteries and energy storage, and billions more for adding digital intelligence to the power grid, energy storage is suddenly getting a lot more attention. While venture capital investing dropped across the board in the first quarter of this year, investment in energy storage (for both vehicles and the grid) actually rose to $114 million, from $50 million in the same quarter a year earlier.

Because it’s been such an ignored market, there’s a lot of room for innovation. Whether it’s large versions of the lithium-ion batteries found in your laptops, decades-old technology of pumping and releasing pressurized air, or cutting edge nanostructured ultracapacitors made of the strongest material ever tested — watch this space.


douglas puckett

the way to store energy is through water if water is a perfect electric EXAMPLE a swimmer in the ocean is 20 miles away from a bolt of lighting that will kill the swimmer by electric from the lighting . now you put pipes under ground just like electric power poles are set the land is allready there just run the pipeing under ground to store the electric and the wires that is allready there to run the electric. the force of juice in the pipeing will be at 12 times magnefied higher running a small capasitor at every pole in the ground to the pipeing for measureing and electric storage is complete this will solve all blackouts and extra juice for free and no eye sore because it is under grond.

James Johnston

@Derek Jensen who wrote at 7:14 PM on May 18, 2009 “maybe we could do a deal with Mexico and recapture half the Colorado River as it empties into the sea; then we wouldn’t need the desalination!”

Hate to tell you this, but the trickle of water that makes up the Colorado River at the Mexican border has to be treated to remove all the fertilizers it picked up in the US – and is so small it is unlikely the Mexicans will give up any of it. In truth, the Mexicans are forever badgering the US to live up to prior commitments on the size and quality of the flow

Mark M MacCracken

It is good to see that some people in the know are finally realizing the importance of energy storage. Fossil fuel is STORED energy ans so if we are going to replace them with really energy, like solar or wind, we can’t forget we need to replace the storage!
There are lots of type (potential, kinetic, chemical, electrical, and thermal) and all types will be need. What has to be recognized is that cool thermal storage is by far the least expensive and so if what you need all those on peak electrons for is cooling a building (which about 30% of peak energy is for), it is much better to store the cooling on site then on the Grid. Owners can save lots of money on their electric bill while adding stability to the grid . And it is not aan expensive option like many of the other solutions. It would behoove the electric companies and the ratepayers to help add storage to buildings before you start paying the big bucks for adding it to the Grid.

David Keck

We should do what we can at an individual level, but I have in mind a strategic approach. It is well known that the United States has sufficient solar resources to meet it’s energy needs. The barriers to utilization are political and infrastructural, not technological. I will only describe proposed infrastructure.

1. Massive concentrating solar power facilities, located principally in the American Southwest, using on the order of 20,000 square miles of desert land (resulting in massive overcapacity of electrical production).
2. Upgrade the national electric grid, with a special focus on long distance transmission.
3. Massive regional man made reservoirs designed with the dual objectives of “pumped storage” and drought mitigation (protecting our food supplies).
4. Massive seawater desalination facilities and a long distance network of aqueducts to get the water to the reservoirs.

We must also move heating and transportation off oil and onto electrically based technology. That’s it in a nutshell. You may inquire as to the cost of implementing this solution. Oh, let’s say $100 trillion. However, this massive investment will yield a massive return on investment. Burning coal releases mercury and other toxins into our environment which causes disease. So we stand to have lower medical costs and a better quality of life.

Lower dependence on foreign energy sources means fewer wars and less military spending. Drought mitigation means steady food supplies and prices. Quite a few domestic jobs would be created while all this infrastructure is being built. This same technology would be made available to impoverished areas of the world out of the goodness of our hearts and to improve international political stability.

Although it would take many years to build all this, it would start yielding returns as soon as the first solar concentrators were installed. I am genuinely interested in what folks think about these ideas.

Ric Benner

The debt payment on an additional $100 Trillion dollars of government debt would almost exceed the gross domestic product of our country.

David Keck

True, but the $100 trillion figure was just a very large number intended to cover what would be the largest infrastructure project in the history of the world. I think the true outlays would be less that that amount. But more importantly, the expenditures would be spread out over the duration of the project, perhaps several decades. Also, some part of the expenditures would return in the form of tax revenue. We would also see some reduction in military spending, as certain regions of he world would be less of a national security interest. The economy would be very stimulated and we should have low unemployment. The principal remaining economic issue would remain the trade defecit, but that’s off topic.

Derek Jensen

Wow, this is actually quite a good idea, at least for the American Southwest. I think it would make more sense to use wind rather than solar for the major portion: install wind turbines off the coast of California and in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada and have them pump seawater (from Cali and thru the Mexican desert) to solar-powered desalination plants and up into the mountains to reservoirs. Reservoir water is then allowed to flow downhill thru turbines, generating electricity, and on to cities and farms. Actually, maybe we could do a deal with Mexico and recapture half the Colorado River as it empties into the sea; then we wouldn’t need the desalination!

Power storage, reliable electricity, and fresh water in the desert… all from clean, renewable wind and solar. I think it would only take 5 billion dollars to build a pilot plant that proves the concept would pay, at which point the investment becomes commercial. I don’t think the idea scales all that well to other regions, since you’d have to pump water hundreds of miles thru the mountains, but maybe it does.

Travlin Hoosier

That’s definitely one of the kinds of big thinking we need to get ourselves out of this mess.

Carol B

Yeah, but desalinization is an incredibly electricity-intensive process! I am extremely skeptical that you can run desal on solar. And that 20k of desert, is that public land or private property? And the massive reservoirs, where do we get the land and what is the environmental impact? I find Lake Powell to be one of the saddest places on earth, all that land flooded. Hydroelectric is not without it’s huge impacts too.

I’m all about innovation, but the key is in your first sentence: “to meet it’s energy needs” It’s those energy needs that we need seriously reconsider. Lowering them. A lot.

John Sawyer

Energy storage should also be encouraged at each home, business, etc. where power is being generated, so that people will have to use the grid as little as possible. That’s an even smarter grid.

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