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October 23, 2013

Unleashing the Power of Energy Storage

On any regular day, utility companies have to plan how much energy to generate and distribute onto the grid.  They try to predict what customers will do based on historical trends and data, primarily by referencing usage on the same day of the previous year.  Then they modify those estimates relative to the current weather forecast for the following day using complex formulas that create demand profiles for a given city or region.

Sounds challenging?  Well it is.  The job of the grid is to deliver electricity to every customer at 120 volts and 60 hertz.  With these predictive models being the norm for operations, it sets utilities up to create more or less energy than is needed on any given day – a potential recipe for problems.  Some energy production technologies can be turned on and off rather quickly – for example, disconnecting a solar panel from the grid.  But other power production methods, like fossil fuel or nuclear power plants, take a long time to turn on and off, at a considerable cost.  Making sure the right amount of energy is being distributed to end-users is critical to our grid infrastructure – too much energy can wreak havoc on electronics, too little results in brownouts and disruptions to service.

As long as there has been an electrical grid, companies have sought ways to safely and efficiently store energy so that it can be consumed on demand, output can be meticulously controlled, and the exact frequency of the energy distributed can be tightly regulated.  Today, a wide array of technologies have been developed and deployed to ensure that the grid can meet our everyday energy needs – from scaleable banks of advanced chemistry batteries and magnetic flywheels, to pumped hydro-power and compressed air storage.

Perhaps most importantly, energy storage is also resource neutral, and allows us to use electricity from any power source more efficiently.  Whether the energy produced comes from a coal power plant or a field of wind turbines, energy storage technologies capture that energy to be used on demand when it is needed most.  Our investment in energy storage evolves with our grid, creating long-term benefit and reliability for years to come.

These diverse technologies have been providing these capabilities to the grid for decades, and as we continue to modernize and create a more intelligent grid infrastructure, energy storage will play an increasingly vital role in delivering the energies of tomorrow.

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