wot’s up with energy storage: on paradigm change

renewable energy storage

KIUC's Strategic Plan is correct to focus on smaller generating facilities, IMHO. Why? Because going 'green' is about energy sources that are both renewable and distributed.

We're looking for small scale power sources literally all around our island. And, to enable such a distributed system, we're gonna need new energy storage tech.

Interestingly, the inventor of "bucky balls", Richard Smalley believed that energy storage is simply too big a problem to address on the gigawatt scale. Instead, says Smalley, "if you imagine attacking the energy storage problem locally, at the scale of a house or a small business, the problem becomes vastly more solvable" (via matternetwork).

Imagine storage devices at each home or business or other sites of small energy generation.

Wot difference would this make for KIUC? Turns out, by distributing both generation and storage, the challenges of maintaining stable power are also distributed. In other words, KIUC would be less vulnerable to surges and sags in any one energy source, because these variations would be handled at each source.

We will have a bunch of options for energy storage, and the fed's research program is focusing on six promising technologies, including:

  1. Batteries-- serve as a backup power source and provide a reliable supply of power for off-grid applications.
  2. Superconducting magnetic energy storage-- used to address power quality problems and short-term power losses, such as those that may occur while switching between a power grid and a backup power supply.
  3. Flywheels-- serve as backup power systems for low-power applications or as short-term power quality support for high-power applications.
  4. Supercapacitors-- used as bridging power sources in uninterruptible power supplies, much like flywheels.
  5. Compressed air energy storage-- stores compressed air is fed into a natural-gas-fired combustion turbine, allowing the turbine to operate at high efficiency, and can start up in 15 minutes.
  6. Pumped hydropower storage-- able to inject a large amount of power into the power grid in a short period of time, going from zero power production to full power within a few minutes.

You've prolly noticed that Jeremy Rifkin is a major advocate of hydrogen for energy storage, noting that "hydrogen is a universal vector that can be extracted from all renewables." His recent presentation at LSE offers valuable insights into why this is important.

Oh, and, here's a strategic implication from the fed's own assessment of energy storage that bears directly on how KIUC might best incorporate these technologies in a distributed system. Says DOE:

"Electric utilities cannot capture the full value of grid-side benefits unless they also own or control the distributed asset, and other owners of distributed assets have no way to independently assess the value of these benefits to the grid-owning utility. For this to change, new business models and accounting systems must be developed."

Sound familiar? As a candidate for the Board, I'm advocating a total rethink of KIUC's business model, and a much harder look at direct investment in 'green' generation and storage...instead of relying on Power Purchase Agreements.

Yes, PPA's (Purchase Power Agreements) mitigate the risk. They also siphon off the benefits.

Methinks we're gonna need to incorporate a much more collaborative approach to energy investments as we build our new distributed renewable system. And, that's a whole new paradigm...

Published by Ken on February 25th, 2008 tagged Best Practices, Energy

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