Energy Storage Key to Diversification of Supply
Energy Storage for the Age of Renewables: Prof. Dr. Eduard R. Heindl at TEDxStuttgart [Source:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XF7mbEsEP04]
Remember the major development of the Basel II accords that followed the global economic crisis? Bank governors huddling in a Swiss boardroom came up with a stress test to gauge how much liquidity banks needed to buffer them from another meltdown. Many banks found the test results to be sobering. They worked on stashing away more cash for the proverbial rainy day.
Municipalities up and down America's eastern seaboard continue to face record-breaking temperatures each year - heat waves that strain a utility's ability to provide service. Wouldn't it be great, utilities said, if they had sufficient energy reserves to keep their customers powered up during future heat waves? Unlike the cash reserves of banks, however, storing vast amounts of electricity is easier said than done.
The major hurdle is cost. The technology to store vast amounts of electricity in a battery does indeed exist today. However, it's incredibly expensive to do so. There are huge opportunities for enterprises to develop large-scale power storage technologies that are scalable and efficient. In fact, everyone with whom I speak in the utilities and energy sectors tells me that we're within three years of seeing major breakthroughs in this space. The race is on.
One of the big drivers for battery storage is the reliability of energy supply from renewable resources. Because solar and wind power are intermittently produced, there needs to be a way of storing electricity reliably for short periods. Blackouts are more of an anomaly but batteries help to level out the daily peaks and troughs of supply. Battery storage is intended for short durations.
US Department of Energy estimates that the threshold for an entity to store large amount of electricity profitably is $100 per kilowatt-hour or less. By comparison, a conventional car battery provides electricity at $8.50 per kilowatt-hour. As it stands now, most "mega-battery" platforms cost well into hundreds of dollars per kilowatt-hour.
Global retailers like Wal-Mart have actually announced their intentions to generate their own power using micro-grids and become self-sufficient. We could be seeing the beginning of a mass movement in the democratization of energy management - in generation, retention and consumption. Private companies like Wal-Mart that sell sustainably produced power can be a good thing. But to make it a reliable source there needs to be a storage capability provided by batteries.
The lithium-sulfur battery is one of the most popular storage technologies for utilities investigating how best to enter the storage business. Scientists are currently tweaking the various models that will make this technology commercially viable. Part of the mindset is mass storage that mimics just-in-time inventory management. Imagine a factory that stores energy from solar panels during the first half of its day. Then, when the grid is experiencing peak demand during the second half of the day, the factory instead uses the electricity generated from earlier that morning.
I think some of the most exciting possibilities for power retention come from the emerging markets. What some people might say is a disadvantage - the absence of large-scale power grids in much of the emerging economies - is in many ways an advantage of sorts. The emerging markets are good laboratories for micro-grids but may not be the most appropriate testing grounds for batteries. Yet micro-grids in developing countries make fascinating case studies where photovoltaics and other cheaper alternatives are used to power small villages. I think of these areas as blank slates where suppliers(mostly governments) don't feel as encumbered by the past because they have fewer legacy assets to update and lower expectations to meet. The rapid growth of this trend in the emerging markets will give us ample lessons to learn.