Monday, October 27, 2014

Innovations in Energy Storage Provide Boost for Renewables

A 20-megawatt storage facility in Stephentown, New York uses 400 flywheels — which store electricity as kinetic energy — to modulate changes in power demand on the grid. (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy)  Click to enlarge.
Intermittency has long been considered the Achilles heel of renewable power generation.  The U.S. electricity grid, after all, is largely built around big, centralized coal and nuclear power plants that can run all the time, whether demand is high or low.  In contrast, grid engineers have no control over when the sun shines or when the wind blows, making it difficult for solar or wind to fully supplant the dirty-but-reliable fuels that keep the power grid humming along smoothly. 

That may finally be changing.  Large-scale and technologically advanced energy storage projects — from massive lithium-ion battery installations in the California mountains to giant, compressed air caverns under the Utah desert have recently been commissioned or announced.  And while numerous hurdles remain — including needed improvements in reliability and safety, regulatory and market changes, and of course, cost — policy moves in many states are steadily nudging the industry forward. 

In a report published last month, the consulting firm Navigant Research estimated that 362.8 megawatts of new energy storage projects — enough to power tens of thousands of homes — had been announced globally in the “It’s happening. We’re beyond the tipping point,” an industry spokeswoman said.  A separate report by the research company IHS projected that global energy storage installations would rise by 6 gigawatts annually by 2017, reaching 40 gigawatts by the end of 2022.  In the U.S. the Department of Energy’s Global Energy Storage Database lists 104 projects in the planning and construction phases.  Around the world, there are another 158 such projects.

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