Bottling up wind and solar energies would be a critical component of their success. And while such energy storage devices are making market headway, they are losing some ground at the same time. Two current events with conflicting results: Xtreme Power has just filed for bankruptcy while AES Energy Storage has surpassed the 174 megawatt milestone.
Energy storage systems not only harness power but also inject that energy into the grid so that providers can efficiently meet their demands. As for Xtreme’s troubles, it started up in 2006 and had collected a federal cash grant in 2009 to get up-and-running. Initially, it had broken out of the pack but then its sales slowed, all of which dashed its hopes to build large battery banks next to wind and solar facilities. The technology is a novel notion, given that wind and solar power don’t produce on demand.
“I believe we are a great company poised for a bright future of renewable energy generation, storage and transmission,” says Alan Gotcher, chief executive of the company, after the bankruptcy news. Moreover, the company has a number of partnerships that it has says will add value to any deal and include GE Energy Storage, Samsung SDI and Duke, which has installed a 36-megawatt battery at a wind farm in Texas with $22 million worth of help from the federal government.
The company has 12 projects that produce 60 megawatts of grid-scale electricity, it says. The units range from 1 megawatt to 36 megawatts.
If energy storage proves itself in the market, it would mean a brighter future for renewable energies that are considered intermittent power sources. It would also allow utilities to forego investments in power plants as well as transmission and distribution lines, because such assets would be more efficiently run. How so?
Energy storage gives utilities, power marketers and industrial customers the flexibility to respond to power shortages, price spikes or brownouts. Utilities, for instance, must precisely measure their load generation with their customers’ needs — a difficult task given that energy usage fluctuates, especially at industrial sites that routinely implement new processes. Without adequate capacity, all wholesale buyers of electricity would be subject to the whims of the market.
To that end, AES Energy Storage is having success, with 174 megawatts of battery-based controllable resources. Its products monitor the grid and then release stored energy either in response to wind variations or to help support unplanned outages. It is doing business in the United States and Chile, with the hope that the recent California initiative to increase energy storage creates new economies of scale.
“With more than 1,000 megawatts of storage capacity targeted for procurement in California along, we are encouraged to see grid storage growing in markets around the world,” says Chris Shelton, president of AES Energy Storage.
California aims to advance the cause: The California Public Utility Commission now requires PG&E Corp. San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison to collectively buy 1,325 megawatts of energy storage by 2020, including 200 megawatt this year. California’s focus is on reducing harmful air emissions and on increasing the use of green energy there. An application could be anything from shaving peak load to storing and injecting wind and solar electrons onto the grid.
The goals: To optimize the grid so that it can shave peak energy usage while also delivering electricity when it is most needed — something that will help to defer investments in transmission infrastructure. Those efficiencies not only make room for more green electrons but they are also allowing storage devices to inject renewable power onto the network. Finally, storing energy and sending it when needed will help the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent before 2050, from 1990 levels.
At least 40 different technologies exist. Many of today’s storage devices can inject about 15-45 minutes of power into the grid. An ultimate battery may go for 3 to 5 hours, and run at 90 percent efficiency whereby little energy is lost during the production process. Batteries can go for 6-10 hours, such as NGK Sodium Sulfur Battery. That duration is able to cover 98 percent of all outages, making it ideal for back-up power.
The price of energy storage technologies is still expensive, which is one of the reasons why Xtreme Power has faltered. But, initiatives such as the one is California, are in effect to help those devices get commercialized. Odds are that the technology will continue to advance, as AES Energy Storage has shown. But the pace of progress is still a question and largely a function of whether these ideas are supported by private investors and public policies.