The deployment of energy storage across the electricity grid could be a game changer in how grid operators generate electricity centrally and how customers access, use and generate energy locally. Time-shifting the output of central renewable or conventional generation plants to match aggregate demand, and storing locally generated electricity to meet individual customer needs are two high impact developments now on the horizon. Distributed storage and generation, as opposed to traditional centralized generation, allows consumers to customize their energy services in ways that central approaches cannot. Argonne National Lab’s George Crabtree, the director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), discussed the technological advantages, cost barriers and regulatory challenges to creating a time-shifting multi-source energy grid at an EPIC seminar on December 9th.
Energy companies face more diverse challenges when adopting alternative energy than do auto companies when creating electric vehicles, Crabtree said. Among the challenges, the energy industry would have to smooth the fluctuations of solar and wind, time-shift excess renewables to align with demand, replace inefficient peaker plants with stored electricity plants, incorporate storage and voltage regulation, and integrate storage with smart and distributed energy resources.
“These challenges are dramatic and diverse, and very different from transportation in that there are many more areas in which energy would need to be stored and changes incorporated,” Crabtree said.
Energy companies would also need new regulatory systems in place and new business plans to accommodate changes in energy creation, use and storage, Crabtree added.
While many factors come into play, one of the greatest challenges is cost. Storing and releasing electricity is about five times more expensive than simply generating electricity on demand. Additionally, there would need to be significant infrastructure adjustments as more renewable sources were incorporated onto the grid. In particular, the grid would have to shift from the old centralized power source structure to a distributed energy supply system with the ability to store energy locally.
Nonetheless, widespread deployment of energy storage into the electricity grid could break one of the grid’s most constraining operating principles: that instantaneous electricity generation must be adjusted to meet instantaneous demand. Instead, by coordinating the electricity from the conventional grid with local generation, local storage, and local use, smart microgrids could provide flexible, customized and reliable service to customers.
“It offers the chance to personalize energy usage to the needs of individuals or like-minded groups of individuals,” Crabtree said. “And I have a feeling that consumers are willing to pay for that convenience … it’s just a question of how much it would be worth to the consumer.”
So what kind of batteries could help us realize the benefits of storage on smart, distributed microgrids? We could assume that lithium-ion batteries could get better, or we could focus on developing the next generation of revolutionary battery power – the focus of Crabtree’s JCESR. JCESR is working to develop batteries that would perform five times better than existing batteries at one-fifth the cost.