Renewable energy is shaping the future of how we live our lives daily. Whether it is wind, solar, bio, or water powered, all that energy needs to be stored until its use is required. Several companies are developing high performance batteries to store this energy, but the batteries are currently too costly for mainstream use. There are other lower performance batteries that cost a little more than half that of the high performance batteries, and it is suggested that the prices all around will continue to drop dramatically in the coming years.
In early August 2013, the Renewable Energy Symposium in San Diego hosted several speakers who want nothing more than to expand the influence of renewable energy and the technologies that support it. Christopher Kuhl of ZBB Energy Corp. suggested that microgrids will really drive the energy storage aspect of the renewable energy industry. Microgrids function in exactly the same way that the normal electricity grid does, but it reduces the size of individual grids. In turn, this prevents rolling blackouts that affect widespread areas. He mentions that it took a disaster like the category 5 Hurricane Sandy for people to see the benefit of using microgrids. Instead of having to restore power all over an entire region, the microgrids may only affect a few towns. This would require less effort to get the system restarted as well. These grids can also strongly benefit from energy storage, because the massive batteries would only need to provide power to a smaller section of the state, rather than over a huge area.
Reducing the Cost
Ionex Advanced Energy Storage Systems is working to reduce the weighty cost of these batteries by developing a silicon and graphene anode battery. They are looking to market these batteries at $350 per kilowatt hour (kWh), below even the $400/kWh low performance batteries available today. They also hope to bring that price down to $150/kWh over the next 18 months, further increasing the marketability of the batteries.
Cutting Peak Usage
Vice president at Urban Electric Power in New York, Valerio De Angelis mentioned at the symposium that by integrating batteries developed by his company and cutting peak energy usage for major urban centers, these batteries can pay for themselves within just a few years. Using his own building as an example, he found that cutting 15 minutes off the peak usage time of his 1 megawatt powered building would cover the cost of a battery system in three years. The company has also developed a Zinc-Manganese Dioxide (Zn-MnO2) for industrial use. The battery is available for $70/kWh, â€œ. . . cheaper than you can buy a car battery,â€� he stated.
A major sticking point to the integration of energy storage systems is their requirement for a powerful operating system to run them. Greensmith Energy Management Systems has sold over 20 of these operating systems since 2011, helping manage grids from a small 50 kW to multiple MW. These systems can begin predicting the most efficient flow of energy on their own after about three months of operation. They have been implemented in microgrids for campuses and large buildings, as well as for islands. The operating system allows the batteries to maximize efficiency by compensating for discrepancies, like the intermittent production of solar energy. It also helps manage different battery types like power or energy batteries. Power batteries discharge quickly, sending all their available energy into the grid as quickly as possible for numerous end points. Energy batteries discharge over hours to manage loads more effectively on smaller scales.
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