Energy storage creates new possibilities
Renewable energy storage is the solution both in the air and on the ground.
The pilot of the Solar Impulse 2 faces some tremendous personal challenges as the plane makes its way around the world. The solo pilot spends up to five days in flight at a time confined to his combination seat/bed/toilet. The cabin is unpressurized and unheated, with temperature swings from -40°C to +40°C.
A major technical challenge is keeping the plane aloft when sun goes down. The solution for that is a set of lithium-polymer batteries and sophisticated power control system. The lack of an effective and reliable energy storage system would be what an engineer might refer to as a “non-trivial” issue during the trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific crossings.
Here on the ground, we face the same problem as the Solar Impulse 2, but with many more potential solutions and much less dire consequences for failure. There’s been a steady stream in innovation related to the technology to generate and distribute renewable energy. That includes energy storage options.
The unique needs of certain areas makes them prime test beds for storage innovation. That includes remote areas, many that relied primarily on diesel generation for power, where solar and wind offer tremendous potential. In the northeast United States, interest is driven by the desire to create more resilience to storms. They’re doing that in part with microgrids that rely on energy storage for emergency support.
These applications are driving newer and better energy storage technology, with lower asset purchase and operating costs. These advances provide a major push for increased renewable power development. New standards, regulations and incentives also encourage adding new distributed energy resources onto the grid.
Some – maybe most – utilities still look at renewable energy as a problem they have a deal with, and a significant disruption to the way they operate their grid. It’s certainly disruptive, but some utilities are beginning to realize that energy storage actually is a benefit. Deployed in the right away as part of their energy portfolio, energy storage is a key component to successful renewable energy implementations and distributed resources, opening the door to new ways to support the grid. Using energy storage’s multiple value streams are opening new areas for business case models and development in the utility grid space.