How energy storage is starting to rewire the electricity industry — @ConversationUS

Image credit Tesla.com.

From The Conversation US (Eric Hittinger/Eric Williams):

The market for energy storage on the power grid is growing at a rapid clip, driven by declining prices and supportive government policies.

Based on our research on the operation and costs of electricity grids, especially the benefits of new technologies, we are confident energy storage could transform the way American homeowners, businesses and utilities produce and use power.

Balancing acts

Energy storage in this context simply means saving electricity for later use. It’s like having a bunch of rechargeable batteries, but much larger than the ones in your cellphone and probably connected to the grid.

After annual average growth of about 50 percent for five years, the U.S. electricity industry installed a total of 1 gigawatt-hour of new storage capacity between 2013 and 2017, according to the firm GTM Research. That’s enough to power 16 million laptops for several hours. While this amount of storage is less than 0.2 percent of the average amount of electricity the U.S. consumes, analysts predict that installations will double between 2017 and 2018 and then keep expanding rapidly in the U.S. and around the world.

To see why this trend is a big deal, consider how electricity works.

It takes a hidden world of complexity and a series of delicate balancing acts to power homes and workplaces because the grid has historically had little storage capacity. After being generated at power plants, electricity usually travels down power lines at the speed of light and most of it is consumed immediately.

Without the means to store electricity, utilities have to produce just enough to meet demand around the clock, including peak hours.

That makes electricity different from most industries. Just imagine what would happen if automakers had to do this. The moment you bought a car, a worker would have to drive it out the factory gate. Assembly lines would constantly speed up and slow down based on consumer whims.

It sounds maddening and ridiculous, right? But electric grid operators basically pull this off, balancing supply and demand every few seconds by turning power plants on and off.

That’s why a storage boom would make a big difference. Storage creates the equivalent of a warehouse to stow electricity when it is plentiful for other times when it is needed.

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