ENERGY | ENERGY STORAGE (DISTRIBUTED)
RANKING AND RESULTS BY 2050 #77
AN ENABLING TECHNOLOGY—COST AND SAVINGS
ARE EMBEDDED IN RENEWABLE ENERGY
There is an energy transition under way, one as radical as the adoption of caol, oil, and gas at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Most would describe the transformation as the shift away from carbon-based fuels to renewable energy, and they would be right—in part. Another part of the breakthrough will be distributed energy storage—the ability to retain small and large amounts of energy produced where you live and work. If global warming is “the transformation that transforms everything,” as sociology and human geography professor Karen O’Brien has observed, distributed energy storage may be the transformation that transforms the energy industry.
Where does your electricity come from? When energy is centrally generated and distributed from large power-generating plants—gas, coal, nuclear, hydro—it feeds into high-voltage transmission lines that crisscross the country into step-down transformers that flow into regional power grids and, finally, your home or place of work. Distributed energy stems turn this sequence on its head. No longer passive consumers, customers can become producers and buy and sell power to the grid when they choose. They can avoid peak demand charges and enable a more resilient grid, preventing demand spikes that can cause brownouts or grid failure.
The wind and sun have their own timetables, making renewable energy variable. That poses a critical challenge for utilities that need to closely monitor supply and demand. The capacity to turn on backup power-generating plants at a moment’s notice—lest the grid go down is critical. Creating a distributed energy storage system, or grid independence, requires affordable storage, and until now, prices for batteries have been prohibitively expensive. That is changing.
… If storage is used to enable more reliance on renewables there will be substantial climate benefits. If storage is just used to shift peak demand to nights in systems that rely heavily on coal, there will be little benefit.
IMPACT: Distributed energy storage is an essential supporting technology for many solutions. Microgrids, net zero buildings, grid flexibility, and rooftop solar all depend on or are amplified by use of dispersed storage systems, which facilitate uptake of renewable energy and aver the expansion of coal, oil, and gas electricity generation. Adoption of distributed storage varies depending on whether it is used in an urban or rural setting; those dynamics are not explicitly modeled.