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.

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