By Dorothy Davis
The electrical grid is a complex network connecting thousands of power sources with millions of consumers all across the U.S. While producing enough power to supply the energy needs of a nation is an extremely difficult task, just as challenging, if not more so, is the need to balance supply and demand on the grid.
Traditionally, the key approach to addressing this issue has been a centralized one, with power generators adjusting daily production based on anticipated levels of demand. But as the supply and demand picture continues to become more complex, emphasis is beginning to shift again toward energy storage - systems that can hold excess electricity until it is needed and then responsively release it into the grid.
The utilization of energy storage in the U.S. is far from new. A report by the Energy Storage Council (ESC) highlights power generators in the 70Ã¢ÂÂs and 80Ã¢ÂÂs recognized the potential of these technologies - creating a base of large-scale storage facilities that accounted for nearly 3 percent of the nationÃ¢ÂÂs electric capacity by the early 90Ã¢ÂÂs. However, the industry suffered major setbacks under the pressures of deregulation causing development to stall.
In the last decade energy storage technologies have enjoyed a resurgence spurred primarily by the burgeoning electric vehicle industry and private investment. Utilities and investors are again recognizing the broad potential benefits of energy storage technologies for power generators as they strive to meet demand.
The potential economic impacts of energy storage are fairly widespread, but the most basic idea is that these technologies will benefit utilities by maximizing power generation and conservation through reliability. Instability can lead to higher electric costs both because of inefficiencies at the generation level and the need for greater maintenance at lower levels.
The prospective benefits of energy storage are also gaining government attention and support. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $43 million in funding from its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for 19 new projects aimed at developing energy storage technologies.
Energy storage also offers a more cost effective solution for intermittent renewable energy sources like solar and wind, which are incapable of scaling generation up or down in response to changing demand.
At the same time, energy storage also has the potential to allow for more consistent use of coal-fired power plants, which have difficulty adjusting their output based on demand.
Energy storage holds the potential to address many of the key challenges facing the electric power industry. By raising the overall capacity and flexibility of energy storage helps meet the needs of a high demand modern grid by optimizing existing assets.
With such wide ranging benefits, growing the energy storage sector is certain to open up new and innovative opportunities for the electric power market.