Energy industry analysts and experts have been predicting that the next significant trend for distributed energy is the inclusion of energy storage systems at various scales. Most all agree that a primary driver for development and investments is the need to remedy the consequences of intermittent output from solar energy systems and wind energy systems. Some even argue that other distributed energy systems that operate more on demand, such as fuel cells running on hydrogen or methane, will eventually benefit from localized energy storage because of the technology’s ability to also manage power quality.
We introduced the topic here by discussing battery storage and the relationship to the solar energy industry. After a year has passed, it is fair to wonder how the industry is moving forward. To a casual observer, it would seem there isn’t much progress. But there is,if you look across the globe and all technology types.
Scale and Technology
The solar storage market has remained a niche area for a number of years, mostly being used in off grid solar application areas. In most of those applications, cost was not the issue, but being able to supply electricity to meet demand at any time was.
Due to the costs and the nature of the technology, one storage type or application is not ideal for all applications. Continued use of battery storage for smaller scale off grid use is benefitting from battery technology advances in other markets. From telecom to electric vehicles (EV), there is an existing demand that justifies development costs outside of distributed energy storage. As the system size and scale grows, battery technology is still being tested, but more dedicated technologies are also being explored. In the U.S., most electricity pricing and markets are relatively low compared to other regions around the globe. Since the scale effects the cost to develop technology, not surprisingly the majority of activity is targeted towards large scale needs at this time.
Positive Activity and Trends
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that its Loan Programs Office (LPO) will make up to $1 billion in loan guarantees available to support commercial-scale distributed energy projects, that will include rooftop solar with energy storage and smart grid technology.
Local and state incentives to increase energy storage capacity are growing. In California, utilities have been quick to experiment before legislation was passed requiring the three state utilities install 1.3 GW of storage by 2020. Southern California Edison is on the forefront with a massive desert installation backing up a wind farm.
Of importance to Ohio, the PJM Interconnection, an organization responsible for transmission of electricity across portions of up to 14 states including Pennsylvania and Ohio, has installed large systems for evaluation. Not only are utilities and transmission operators exploring electricity storage for future use, but they are just as interested in the systems’ ability to condition power along the grid.
Markets with higher retail electricity pricing across the world are slowly adopting storage for residencies and small businesses. Germany and Japan, the two leaders in small-scale storage, both have modest subsidy programs for residences and businesses. By the end of 2014 it was estimated that about 20,000 residential systems were in use in each of the countries.
In the U.S., Hawaii has not only the highest retail rates, but also a large penetration of distributed energy systems, especially solar. HECO, the largest electricity supplier to the state, has become aggressive in exploring all forms of storage specifically to improve the integration of renewable energy.
A flow battery is a special type of rechargeable battery in which two liquids with opposite electric charge (electrolytes) exchange ions, converting chemical energy directly into electricity. The electrolytes are usually separated by a thin membrane that lets them exchange ions without mixing. Each electrolyte is stored in its own tank, and those tanks can easily be scaled from low kWh to MWh in capacity.
We earlier discussed thermal storage as it takes advantage of a unique type of solar energy generating technology. Creative advances are taking place to give some versions of this technology a competitive advantage for more general applications.
Although not a new technology even in the U.S. and North America, there have been recent advances and successful installations that are further proving its value. Here the storage technology was essential for a Spanish project to reach its first milestone of total self-sufficiency for 10,000 residents.
Managing Energy Storage
In order to properly utilize storage technology, especially at scale, advances are needed in management software. Many vendors are now on board, and competition is high.
It is difficult to predict exactly where technology and its application is headed. But all indications are that activity in the market is accelerating. This is not only key to advancing the effectiveness, but it also has caught the attention of a greater number of financial investors. It is a primary reason why analysts have become so bullish about the future.
On the residential storage front, Tesla made headlines with the announcement of the Powerwall for smaller applications. However, with the advances and activity reported here, in the near future larger scale systems are better suited to meet the immediate needs of the power grid. The residential storage market is growing, but by comparison larger scale commercial and utility projects are exploding and providing most of resources and investments to validate the full range of technologies. At YellowLite, we will stay in tune with current events and keep our customers well informed over time.
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