As we have talked about in previous articles, renewable energy technology such as wind turbines that turn kinetic wind energy into clean electricity or solar technologies that do the same for heat or sunlight is largely intermittent. How can we plan an entire growing global economy that requires power only when the wind blows or when the sun shines?
Obviously, we cannot but if we could add energy storage into the mix we could really change this picture right? Let’s ignore for now the many different types of energy storage technologies that being developed today and focus on how we should incorporate energy storage into our own power needs.
Wind energy is mostly having an impact on utility-scale power generation as the best places for year-round wind energy are necessarily beside your home or factory.
At least in the U.S., it is most common to see large wind farms in states like Ohio, Texas, and Illinois whereas in Germany it is common to see every little village or hamlet having two or three wind turbines located very near to the population.
Solar photovoltaic energy, however, is having the largest impact on the residential energy market. The cost of solar panels is now at grid parity ( which means at least as cheap as the cheapest source) and if this situation continues which it will unless regulators intervene, distributed solar power will become the norm. There is no doubt that many utilities are and will try to block this move forward. Smart utilities will find a way to offer energy products that provide renewable energy alternatives to consumers such as power purchase agreements and community solar power arrays.
However can this shift from fossil fuels which offer on-demand response 24-7 to the intermittent wind and solar power continue past a certain point before we have a problem? The limit is thought to be 20 percent renewable.
However, if you add energy storage to each of these distributed and utility-scale renewable energy sources the whole scenario changes. Now you have no real limit to the amount of intermittent renewable energy you can collect and use.
Maybe it is the power utilities of the world that need to become an energy storage expert? When grid parity renewable electricity came along we all thought, ok now that is a game changer, and for it changed the game. The game ender whoever is turning out to be distributed energy storage. Storage can be utility scale and massive in nature but it can also be millions of small energy storage devices located close to the renewable generation itself.
A prime example of this is the Tesla Motors electric car battery. What is it that is so special? In fact, it uses existing ( now improving ) lithium-ion cells, very small ones all connected in a controlled manner together. The distributed energy storage grid will be very similar.
I had a professor tell me one day that his secret to success was that he found the next big thing and became an expert in it. Good advice. Energy Storage is about to become a very big thing!
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