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This ‘major breakthrough’ will soon be energizing the energy sector

The state of California is leading the way in the use and development of energy storage, a relatively new technology that the Department of Energy (DOE) is calling a potential “major breakthrough” within the energy sector.

San Onofre Nuclear Reactors

Photo Courtesy: FOX5 San Diego, San Onofre Nuclear Reactors

Recently, California-based electrical supply company Southern California Edison decided to retire its San Onofre nuclear reactors (pictured) and also plan to retire its natural gas units. The company says the natural gas units have had trouble being “environmentally friendly” in their cooling process. Their solution? Invite proposals for energy storage, including conventional batteries and giant ice packs and new gas-fired power plants. In an unusual competition held in California, proposals for energy storage systems beat out hundreds of bids to construct new power plants as a way to meet peak power needs. Southern California Edison, the largest subsidiary of Edison International, is the primary electricity supply company for much of Southern California. The company provides 14 million people with electricity across approximately 50,000 square miles.

The beauty of energy storage is that its goal is to manage the amount of power required to supply customers at times when need is greatest. In some cases, power plants are needed only a few hundred hours the entire year, usually during peak-production times. With energy storage, companies like Southern California Edison are able to drastically cut electricity costs by producing it when it is needed most and producing less energy when it’s needed less. Currently, the Department of Energy is looking into ways to reduce the cost of energy storage technology and power electronics to gain and accelerate acceptance into the energy market.

The DOE is researching and developing energy storage technology in a number of areas that differ in power and energy requirements. The energy storage technology platform includes batteries (both conventional and advanced), flywheels, electrochemical capacitors, superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES), power electronics, and control systems. What are some of these platforms?

  • Flywheels – A rotating mechanical device that is used to store rotational energy. Flywheels have a significant moment of inertia and thus resist changes in rotational speed. Energy is transferred to a flywheel by applying torque to it, thereby increasing its rotational speed, and hence its stored energy.
  • Electrochemical capacitors – Consists of two electrodes, a separator, electrolyte, two current collectors, and packaging. Within the electrochemical capacitor, charge is stored electrostatically, not chemically as in a battery.
  • Power Electronics – Enables utilities to deliver power to their customers effectively while providing increased reliability, security, and flexibility to the electric power system. Power electronics will play a key role in transforming the current electric grid into the next-generation grid.

The application of these electronic storage devices will also help in making renewable energy, whose power output cannot be controlled by grid operators, smooth and dispatchable. The devices can also balance microgrids to achieve a good match between generation and load. One company is already ahead of the curve when it comes to developing energy storage technology.

Photo Courtesy: www.energystorageexchange.org

Photo Courtesy: www.energystorageexchange.org

Ice Energy, based in Glendale, California, is one of the area’s leading providers of intelligent energy storage solutions to the utility industry. Ice Energy specializes in producing cost-effective, clean, and reliable distributed energy storage solutions for the grid. One of those solutions is a product they developed called an Ice Bear (pictured). An Ice Bear is a rooftop device that looks similar to an air conditioner but is used to freeze water in 450-gallon pots. The device runs at night when external temperatures are lower so making ice is easier. During peak hours, the ice that was made overnight is then used for space cooling, requiring only the electricity needed to blow the air around. Ice Energy has units across the United States with a combined 10 megawatts of capacity.

Ice Energy Chief Executive Officer Michael Hopkins commented:

“We’re very excited we’re seeing storage as a real part of a solution. The benefits of these thermal storage units (Ice Bears) would be split. Business owners could save by buying their electricity at off-peak prices, and companies like Southern California Edison could avoid the need for seven or eight kilowatts of electricity per unit during peak periods.”

In comparison, seven kilowatts is enough to light 70 hundred-watt light bulbs.

According to the Energy Storage Association (ESA), the energy storage market is set to “explode” to an annual installation size of 6 gigawatts (GW) in 2017 and over 40 GW by 2022, from an initial base of only 0.34 GW installed in 2012 and 2013. Over 60 million Americans in 13 mid-Atlantic states plus the District of Columbia are saving money and receiving highest quality service thanks to energy storage systems operating in that region.

Recently, RES Americas—one of the nation’s leaders in renewable energy—announced that it will build two 19.8-megawatt systems in Illinois. The systems, when finished, will be the largest installations in North America. This is just one of the many announcements that are expected to be made on energy storage development in the United States for years to come.

You can read the full story in the New York Times by clicking here.

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