A Smarter Electric Company Using Stored Energy for the Grid

Much of the energy news today has focused on the need for smarter power grids and its true—grids are getting smarter. But some companies are worried less about grid innovations and more about energy storage. According to a recent report in Forbes, “Storage solves a lot of problems: it can enable utilities to vastly improve the efficiency of their distribution networks by storing and releasing energy where it is needed, thereby forestalling or eliminating the need for new investments in infrastructure” (forbes.com/sites/peterdetwiler/2013/02/26/one-companys-approach-to-innovation-in-electricity-storage-focus-on-the-software/). Some utilities are already benefitting from energy storage and the trend for storage is likely to escalate.

Energy Storage
Its only been in the recent years of the 21st century that large scale electrical storage has been considered for widespread commercial use by electric companies. As increasing levels of renewable energy are produced and new technologies are needed to improve electric grids to effectively use energy, storage is imperative. Various companies are looking at battery storage as the answer to this issue. In the past, batteries were viewed as too small in terms of capacity to be effective and efficient. On the other hand, new technologies created over the last several years have altered the batterys capability so that, in essence, it can fulfill energy storage on a far grander scale than previous considered.

Benefits for the Grid
Updating the grid with effective technologies is an ever-present concern for any electric company. Energy storage takes some of the heat off, so to speak, the necessity to innovate and even to update the grid. Certainly as smart grids are installed, the need for accompanying energy storage is also essential. Yet when updating the infrastructure is not possible, energy storage could defray the necessity of an immediate upgrade as it enhances the grid to effectively meet the energy needs of consumers. During peak times, the storage could supply the additional energy needed to meet demands. On the other hand, it could accumulate and store energy from renewable sources, for instance, when additional energy is not in demand.

Battery Storage Enhances Renewable Energies
An electric company looking to diversify its energy sources can more effectively incorporate solar and wind power, for instance, into its platform. As the solar energy, for example, is produced, there is a need for storage. The grid can then draw from the source when it needs to. Moreover, when there is a scarcity of wind, for example, the energy stored in the batteries can be tapped. This battery storage is essential for renewable energies to be efficiently harnessed by the utility companies.

Battery Effectiveness
According to Science Daily, “High-performance batteries on the basis of lithium ions can already be applied reasonably in the grid today” (sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120809124611.htm). Several electric companies and utilities are, in fact, using new batteries and associated technologies to enhance grid operation. Still more companies are in trial phases and are testing different batteries and different technologies used to interact with the batteries. Their findings are being examined by interested parties across the globe. Along with the U.S., both Germany and the UK have been especially keen to make advances on the energy storage and battery front.

More Pieces to the Puzzle
In the U.S., a company called Greensmith isnt worried about batteries for electricity storage; it acknowledges that there are already plenty of companies producing them for use with smart grids. Greensmith regards these batteries as simple hardware. Their goal, on the other hand, is to outfit these batteries with their own software. The batteries embody different technologies. Greensmith is learning ways to communicate to and between them. Essentially, Greensmith software-enhanced storage solutions mean that “the same battery assets can be utilized and optimized in different locations at different time to achieve different outcomes,” according to the Forbes report.

Software-Enhanced Batteries
Is there an electric company willing to test out the Greensmith plan? Actually, there are several. Their storage solutions are already improving solar penetration in Southern California. Companies working with Greensmith include San Diego Gas and Electric, Southern Company, and Hawaiian Electric Company. The CEO of Greensmith sees the software and hardware combination of battery storage “as being an interconnected and orchestrated fleet of communicating batteries.”

Battery Technology is Likely to Evolve—and Fast!
Just as grids will improve along with entire infrastructures, batteries will too. Moreover, with so many technologies evolving, anyone can see that the need to keep up with them is daunting. This is one reason why using software to connect them is an idea worth pursuing. As Greensmiths CEO stated, “With rapidly evolving battery technologies, its essential not to be tied down to one technology. They can take a storage technology used for grid stability one day and re-purpose it the next for electric vehicle charging.” This type of versatility could transform the way the energy industry views battery storage.

Stabilizing Unstable Grids
Energy stored on batteries, even expensive batteries, can be cost-effective as their use stabilizes the grid. For regions with particularly unstable grids, the battery storage system can work to smooth out spikes to the system so that uninterrupted flows are achieved. In rural areas or even islands where large diesel generators are required, battery storage systems could effectively be used—and even achieve a profit according to the recent report in Science Daily.

Electric Grid Storage—A Smart Solution
When it comes to renewable energy, the storage-enhanced grid appears to be a must. In order to reliably use these renewable energy sources, a storage system is required. Without these storage systems, the grid could black out when the wind stops blowing, for instance. In other words, the electricity stored on batteries is the backup system that renewable energies need to remain effective and viable. As more energy companies continue to rely on alternative energy sources to meet energy demands, there is going to be greater demand for effective storage solutions—hence, the industry-wide focus on batteries and battery enhancements like software. Governments across the globe are working to increase alternative energy usage like solar. As these energies are employed, more storage solutions will be needed to support them and it looks as though there are some effective storage solutions on the horizon.

 Sam Jones the author of this article studies the energy market to advise on how to switch electricity supplier. He recommends uSwitch Energy Price comparison website as a great resource for finding the cheapest energy tariffs

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