Smart Storage


The intelligent grid cannot be achieved without energy storage.

The intelligent grid cannot be achieved without energy storage.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2009

The intelligent grid has gone from a relatively arcane topic of interest, primarily for a small number of industry insiders, to holding a high profile place in the Obama administration’s plans for economic recovery. It was even featured in a television commercial during the Super Bowl. Yet, while much has been written about the intelligent grid of late, little attention has been focused on the role of energy storage in achieving its expected benefits. Energy storage is an essential component of the intelligent grid. Indeed, a recent report released by the U.S. Department of Energy titled, The Smart Grid: An Introduction , lists energy storage as one of five fundamental technologies that will enable the intelligent grid’s realization. Energy storage provides greater grid integration of variable renewable energy resource output ( e.g., wind, solar); improved system reliability via the provision of grid regulation services; and peak demand reductions and, in turn, deferred capital spending on new and upgraded transmission and distribution assets.

Smart Grid Predictions

Intelligent-grid technology spending will reach $70 billion in 2013. This prediction is based on a number of drivers. Among them is the need to integrate renewable and distributed energy resources. Other factors include reliability concerns and mandatory grid-reliability standards. As a consequence of these issues, about $4.5 billion of the economic stimulus package was earmarked for the intelligent grid’s development. Furthermore, intelligent grid subsidies embedded in the economic stimulus bill will dramatically accelerate technology investment during the 2010-2013 timeframe. The industry, however, will face critical constraints imposed by workforce availability, manufacturing capacity, and project complexity.

Additionally, some of the same dynamics driving intelligent-grid spending also are driving utilities to emphasize distributed energy as a grid-support tool. Grid constraints also will push the market toward distributed solutions for generation and storage, while advances in communications, monitoring and control technologies will facilitate increased distributed energy operation. With respect to energy storage in particular, investor funding for utility-scale energy storage—especially for grid-scale applications—will rise markedly, accelerating the deployment of commercial stationary storage applications.

Taking these predictions together, the intelligent grid’s roll-out should occur in tandem with the greater commercial deployment of energy-storage technologies. The two can be considered to be inextricably linked. In fact, there cannot be an intelligent grid without the considerable presence of advanced energy-storage systems embedded within it.

Storage Tech

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Energy storage long has been considered the Holy Grail for more efficiently managing the single commodity—electricity—that needs to be used when generated. But so far, successfully commercializing a so-called disruptive utility-scale energy storage technology has proved to be an elusive undertaking. Although significant (and mounting) investments made by government, private industry, and power-sector companies have led to steady gains toward the production of economically viable bulk-storage systems, institutional risk aversion and the perceived low value of the application’s energy storage have hampered utility and ISO/RTO adoption efforts. This situation appears to be gradually changing, however, as the