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Innovations in Energy Storage

Innovations in Energy Storage

Uncertainty has always been considered the bane of the renewable energy power sector. For instance, the US electricity grid is constructed based on centralized coal and nuclear power plants - be operational continuously in spite of the fluctuation in demand. However, mega scale and technologically sophisticated energy storage projects - massive lithium-ion battery in mountainous terrain; air caverns in deserts have been launched. Though bottlenecks in terms of consistency, safety, regulatory & market transformations and cost exist, policy changes have transformed the industry’s progress.

According to the consulting firm, Navigant Research “ 362.8 megawatts of new energy storage projects - enough to power tens of thousands of homes - had been announced globally”. As per a report by the research company IHS “global energy storage installations would rise by 6 gigawatts annually by 2017, reaching 40 gigawatts by 2022.

Storage technologies can be of different types:

Pumped-storage hydro - In this scenario, water is transported uphill. It is stored in a mega reservoir over there and is released to flow downwards to create energy. It is one of the traditional forms of energy storage which has been installed globally. However, due to the resistance to construction of dams, alternatives have been developed.

Batteries of different designs, including lithium-ion batteries are becoming prominent with multiple utilities. Another technology that is gaining ground is compressed air storage - using existing electricity to supply air in a confined space (underground/tanks) to operate a turbine on a need basis.

Flywheels - a traditional technology using existing energy to operate a low-friction wheel spinning, storing power as kinetic energy; the wheels over a period of time slow down to deliver power back to the grid. Mega solar plants emphasize the sun’s energy on large heat-exchangers with specialized liquid salts. It has the ability to retain heat for generating electric energy afterwards.

Molten salt storage is also being used to generate electricity.

According to David Marcus, the founder of a storage company called General Compression, “A wind farm combined with storage like compressed air technology is already a cost-effective solution. Wind plus appropriate storage should be able to provide the same service as a new combined-cycle gas plant, and is competitive where gas prices are high”.

As per Lin from the Global Energy Storage Alliance, “While storage is good for incorporating renewables into modern grids, it also could play a role in developing countries, where people lack electricity access and grids are weak. India, for example, with a notoriously shaky electrical grid, is starting to push for storage for both renewables integration and rural electrification projects”.

Regulatory changes are being made including in the US to facilitate development in storage technology and eliminate its integration into the grid. In 2012, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s landmark Renewable Electricity Futures Study laid out what it considered a clear path to 80 percent renewable energy generation in the United States by 2050.

In the recent past, costs are coming down, installations are increasing and regulators are considering relevant compensation. Therefore, in the long run development of energy storage projects is to stay.

- Jess Potts
Published on:
May 6, 2015
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