Energy Storage

Energy Storage

The buzz about hydrogen fuel cells and “smart grid” technologies has been growing louder. But what does it mean, and how is it connected to clean energy?

First, clean technologies and renewable power are only part of solving the energy puzzle we face. In order to make these technologies more viable, we need to reduce our demand through energy efficient practices that enable us to use any power we generate more wisely.

But we also need to find ways of storing and distributing that power as effectively as possible. That’s because energy demand and energy generation are never constant and do not always coincide. Excess energy is produced during periods of low demand, but it is lost if it can’t be stored for use during peak demand. Similarly, energy produced in one location might go unused while another location is straining to meet demand with too little energy produced. Renewables won’t fix this problem at all.

Getting serious about clean energy also means getting serious about energy efficiency.

  • Reduce peak demand strains for power generation
  • Provide greater flexibility in utilizing all power sources (including renewables) when and where they are needed or appropriate
  • Improve cost-effectiveness, reliability, power quality and efficiency
  • Reduce the environmental impact of electricity generation, transmission, and distribution. 

Energy Storage Technologies

Improved technologies that allow us to capture excess energy and use it when needed.

Advanced Batteries

If you’ve heard about lithium-ion batteries, that’s an example of an advanced battery technology, though there are other varieties.

  • More compact and efficient than lead-acid batteries
  • Provide more energy with smaller unit
  • Last twice as long as conventional batteries. Other varieties, like the sodium sulfur battery, can operate under much higher temperatures.

Flow Batteries

  • High power and high capacity uses, like in a power grid
  • Charge is circulated through the battery from a rechargeable and portable external unit that can be moved to where it’s needed on demand

Compressed Air Energy Storage

  • Both stores and produces power
  • Off-peak electricity forces air into an underground storage reservoir, such as a rock cavern or abandoned mine.
  • Compressed air is released in high-demand times and heated by natural gas to produce electricity.

Superconducting Magnetic Energy Systems (SMES)

  • Used to bridge periods of power instability or short-term interruptions, such as those that may occur while switching from grid electricity to a backup power supply.
  • Store energy in the magnetic field created when current travels through super cooled conducting material.
  • SMES produce immediate high power, but for a very short time. New R&D is underway to improve the cooling process, using either liquid helium or liquid nitrogen.

Hydrogen Cells

  • The most abundant substance in the universe, but it must be derived from other sources. Current hydrogen production today is derived from a natural gas process, which is costly and releases carbon dioxide during production.
  • Hydrogen is not energy-dense, meaning that energy production requires large volumes – large enough that storing and firing the volume mitigates the volume of energy produced.
  • New technology is required to make hydrogen from renewable sources, and new technology is needed to store and transport it. 

Incorporating Energy Storage

Energy storage refers to wide range of technologies which can be used to store energy and release it later to perform some useful task. Like distributed generation, energy storage is another example of an energy service which does not fit neatly into the traditional electricity system model consisting of generation, transmission, distribution, and retail sales. From a grid operator’s perspective, storage can act like load (when it is being charged), generation (when it is releasing energy), and can be used to improve utilization of transmission assets. Development of economical storage is useful to intermittent energy resources, in particular, because it enables intermittent resources to comprise a larger portion of available capacity without compromising grid operations.

Texas has a number of mature oil fields that could be used for compressed-air energy storage (air is pumped in during off-peak periods when power prices are low and extracted for extra power generation during peak periods when power prices are high), and market participants are exploring other options for compressed air storage or large-scale batteries. Solar thermal power plants often make use of thermal storage which can smooth and shift output to capture higher energy values later in the afternoon and evening. Distributed storage concepts have been proposed; including dispatching of energy stored in the batteries of plug-in hybrid vehicles during peak demand periods or as back-up power during emergencies.

Energy Distribution 

The "grid" often sounds like a vast interconnected system of power supply nodes, something like a world wide web of electricity that’s always there and able to supply power.

Not necessarily so.

The grid is more like a broadcast network rather than an on-demand system. Energy is produced at a central station and sent out to all customers whether they need it or not – and it’s not so much a grid as a web. Grids are sliced and diced differently depending on where you live, so your grid isn’t necessarily connected to or compatible with others.

The notion of a smart grid – or an interconnected distributed energy system –is a recent innovation. This concept is built on local generators that adjust to meet the peak demand of local lines and even just particular customers. This makes it possible to operate a network of distributed generators that provide power as needed.

Some envision that these technologies will evolve to like the personal computer, reaching the point where end users will be able to buy and operate their own electrical power systems from an interconnected grid of micro-generators.

Energy Efficient Technologies in Texas 

With significant business communities of established and emerging companies in fields such as information security, modeling and simulation, IT products and services, communications, and energy, Texas has the resources to capitalize on innovation.

  • Texas has a high concentration of key partners, researchers, and customers
  • Texas’s well-educated and high-tech workforce is positioned and ready to meet the challenges of developing new technology
  • Texas is a research and development powerhouse
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