As utility companies are turning to renewable sources for electricity sourcing, including wind and solar, they face new challenges in providing energy to consumers. While sustainable sourcing of energy is on the rise, companies are working toward providing storage solutions when renewable sources are not available, such as when the sun is down, rendering solar panels obsolete.
In California, state law requires utility companies to acquire 33 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, according to East Bay Express. However, these providers must now try to solve the issue of delivering power from wind and solar to consumers through their current electrical grids.
"[I]n the 21st century, a major shortcoming of our existing grid looms large: Electricity dissipates instantly on it," the article said. "This use-it-or-lose-it system is a problem for wind energy, since wind blows strongest at night, when demand for electricity is low, and for solar energy, which can't provide power once the sun goes down, or when a cloud passes overhead."
Energy storage may solve existing grid problems
With the problem of energy disappearing on existing grids, a significant amount of energy from wind and solar sources is wasted if it is not used immediately as it becomes available. In addition to these issues, existing grids are prone to power outages, which can be exacerbated by unstable output from these renewable sources. In order to meet California's guidelines in lowering greenhouse gas emissions and helping to improve the efficiency and functionality of grids, the article calls for the public and private sector to invest in energy storage to meet growing demand.
The U.S. Department of Energy has a program that initiates the research and development of storage technologies, including advanced batteries and superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES). The agency said it cooperates with industry partners to develop these new technologies, including utility companies and state energy organizations. Research incorporates analytical studies on the performance of storage devices.
The DOE said the benefits of energy storage includes: enhanced quality of power and more reliable delivery of electricity; increasing the stability of transmission systems; expansion in the use of existing devices to avoid the costs of upgrading; and improving the availability of distributed generation sources.
While energy storage is an industry that is just beginning, researchers are working to replace California's natural gas power plants with energy storage by 2050.
"We're talking about creating a whole new sector, but I'm pretty confident," UC Berkeley professor Dan Kammen Kammen said. "Storage is going to be the next big thing."