Storage has long been one of energy's biggest "Holy Grails." It holds the key to every significant move into smart grids.
The reason is pretty simple: If energy cannot be stored, it is lost. Even transferring it from one type of energy to another is of little consequence unless you can reverse the erosion in the entire system.
It's called entropy, and it's a pervasive problem.
Now, there are a number of rather complicated ways to explain this, but let's keep ours straightforward. Over time, a system ends up having more energy than can be readily used. This is always the biggest drain on any attempt to structure a more efficient approach.
So the basic question becomes how to "save" all of this energy from being lost.
That's what's at the center of a breakthrough project I came across yesterday...
The "Biggest Small Step" I've Seen
Of course, all smart grid networks have as their backbone a way to direct energy to reduce entropy. A better way to store it would make this "traffic cop" element that much more attainable.
There are only two ways of bringing this about. The first is the search for a mega-battery breakthrough. That one has been quite elusive. We have yet to see a major advance on this front.
On the other hand, the second approach is already moving forward. It involves designing systems with the ability to police their own use.
It makes what happened yesterday in New York City so interesting... and thanks to Tina Casey at CleanTechnica for the heads up on this one.
You see, some of the biggest advances begin with small steps. This one may be the "biggest small step" I have seen in some time.
As Tina notes:
New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is one of the largest single users of energy in the U.S. Yesterday, it officially launched a next generation energy storage system certain to spark a lot of interest. MTA has installed three CellCube vanadium flow batteries on the 25th floor setback of its lower Manhattan headquarters to demonstrate how small footprint, high volume on site energy storage systems can shave down peak electricity use and turn a "smart" building into a brilliant one.
Even without a renewable energy angle, onsite energy storage is the next big thing in grid management and smart building strategies. It's a huge bottom line plus for the consumer, since you can store energy during cheap off-hours rates and draw from the battery when rates are high, while ensuring resiliency in case of grid disruptions.
In the bigger picture, onsite energy storage can help local utilities reduce the need to put peaking plants on line to handle maximum load, and put off the need to build new plants.
These new CellCube batteries are produced by a German company called Gildemeister and actually draw their power off the grid.
Of course, the Germans themselves have been diving into all manner of energy network angles as they struggle with restructuring their domestic energy system.
About the Author
Dr. Kent Moors is an internationally recognized expert in oil and natural gas policy, risk assessment, and emerging market economic development. He serves as an advisor to many U.S. governors and foreign governments. Kent details his latest global travels in his free Oil & Energy Investor e-letter. He makes specific investment recommendations in his newsletter, the Energy Advantage. For more active investors, he issues shorter-term trades in his Energy Inner Circle.