By Dax Kepshire, Co-Founder of SustainX
Today the power industry relies on antiquated, slow-responding fossil fuel generators to delicately balance power supply and consumer demand. The lowest cost energy is supplied by steam generation units burning coal, or combined cycle natural gas facilities.
Peak power units, or generators that can be quickly dispatched on the hottest and coldest days of the year are the most expensive to operate and typically require dedicated peaker units that inefficiently burn natural gas or diesel fuel.
Energy produced from solar and wind is becoming increasingly more competitive with traditional baseload generation, but these resources only generate electricity when the sun is shining or when the wind is blowing.
This compounds the grid stability problem as underproduction from renewables increases our reliance on the faster responding polluting peaker units and overproduction can force fossil units to curtail production resulting in increased emissions. Additionally, power delivery networks suffer during times of peak demand or excess renewable production causing congestion within the transmission system and resulting in the inability to deliver a sufficient amount of power to end users.
As a result of this inflexibility that exists in the system, consumers are often forced to pay a costly premium for energy consumed during peak times. The end result is less obvious to the majority of residential customers, but can have an impact on the bottom line for large commercial and industrial customers. This is a global problem and the solution lies in a smarter grid technology and the key is energy storage.
Enter energy storage. Energy storage will enable a smarter grid and transform the way electricity is generated, transmitted and consumed. It will be used to supplement baseload generation by allowing these facilities to operate continuously at peak efficiency by charging a storage asset during times of low demand.
When demand increases the storage assets can be dispatched to increase the capacity of the baseload facility transforming it into a virtual peaking plant. The inherent ability for storage to provide emissions-free capacity will allow these assets to be sited more quickly than peakers and the distributed nature will allow them to be strategically located at any scale next to load centers or points of congestion. When paired with renewables, energy storage will transform intermittent solar and wind into reliable and predictable mainstream generation sources.
Storing energy will allow wind systems to minimize the curtailment that currently occurs during periods of over generation or congestion within the transmission system and will allow renewable energy to be transported from the rural generation sites and strategically stored next to load zones where it is most valuable.
With greater grid stability, electric power quality will improve reducing severity of under-voltages, over-voltages (surges) and transients, meaning that increased power quality will have less adverse effects on digital equipment.
Users will also benefit from storage by installing it on their side of the meter and allowing inexpensive off-peak electricity to be purchased and then later reused during periods of peak demand to reduce peak demand and time of use energy charges. The end result of a smarter storage-enhanced utility infrastructure is increased grid stability and flexibility ultimately resulting in fewer outages and lower rates to customers.
Author: As SustainX’s Vice President and General Manager, Dax Kepshire, Ph.D. is responsible for managing the company’s day-to-day operations. Kepshire holds an M.S. and Ph.D from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. He is the lead author of six peer-reviewed scientific publications, and is named as an inventor on two published U.S. patent applications.