I grew up accustomed to planned blackouts infamously known as ‘load-shedding’ in India in the 90s and 2000s. Our utility provided a schedule for planned blackouts for up to 6 hours each day. Thankfully, they broke it into non-sequential 3-hour blocks. To provide power during those times, my father got an inverter with a lead-acid battery installed for our household. While we could only run lights and fans, it would last for 3 hours or more. That was a great firsthand introduction to the value of energy storage in its most basic form.
While there are still more than 2 billion people around the world without a reliable supply of electricity, great strides are made every day to develop smart, low-cost, sustainable distributed generation resources. I continue to believe that energy storage will form the bedrock of the future electricity grid. On this front, I thought I would share some of the trends I am following across the energy storage market.
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Long duration energy storage
End-of-life four-hour storage has become the norm in progressive energy storage markets. Recently, Silicon Valley Choice Energy released a Request for Proposal for 8 to 16 hours long energy storage to be installed by 2026 with incentives if it is done sooner. Across the globe in India, Solar Energy Corporation of India issued tenders to procure round-the-clock power from grid-connected renewable energy projects. While such tenders do not explicitly ask for long-duration energy storage, they will catalyze the development of multi-hour battery energy storage systems.
Modularization of energy storage
Over the last couple of years, utility-scale stationary energy storage products are increasingly modularized. Tesla’s Megapack, Fluence’s GridStack, and Wartsila’s recently launched Quantum Solv point in this direction. This trend is primarily due to cost pressures, faster deployment, and easier augmentation of the modularized energy storage system. Eventually, the 40 feet ISO container design will likely disappear. Typically, modularization is a signal of a maturing market. Something that all stakeholders will be pleased to hear.
Microgrids and energy storage
While talking about microgrids, I often say “If you have worked on one microgrid project, you have worked on only ONE microgrid project.” While a self-sustaining source and load, isolated from the utility grid, can be termed as a microgrid, each microgrid design is different. Hence, experience from one microgrid project is not easily replicated on another microgrid project.
However, there is a common basis of design proliferating across the microgrid market. Energy storage forms the ‘spine’ of microgrids using inverter droop control. All microgrid applications with energy storage have islanding or off-grid forming capability in the inverter. Supercharged hurricanes and wildfires due to climate change have exposed the weakness in our present electricity infrastructure. Microgrids are becoming more mainstream and not just limited to exotic island resorts or special use cases. Increasingly, we are seeing critical infrastructure like hospitals, military bases and schools developing and deploying microgrid solutions.
FERC order Nos. 841 and 2222 have opened the door for energy storage to participate in electricity wholesale retail, as well as DER markets. In ERCOT, solar and wind generation plants are already competing head-to-head in pricing with natural gas. As solar, wind, and energy storage become cheaper, it puts a big question mark on the viability of natural gas assets. This trend will only further showcase that natural gas peaker plants have indeed peaked.
Honorable mentions: V2X and VPP
There is certainly a lot of excitement across the globe for vehicle-to-anything popularly known as V2X application. V2X application provides a way to sell electricity stored in your electric car at high prices and charge the car when electricity prices are low or provide power to another car/device. Companies like Lucid Motor are already actively advertising the V2X capabilities of their cars. When we think about innovations in distributed power generation, the idea of converting cars into a mobile power supply is exciting and has potential, currently it remains to be seen how successful the V2X application and business model will be.
Virtual Power Plant (VPP) is another area of interest in the energy storage market. VPP is a conglomeration of flexible, small, and medium-scale generation resources like solar, wind, and consumption sources like consumer loads and various forms of chemical, mechanical or thermal energy storage systems. Several companies like Tesla Autobidder, Stem’s Athena platform are being developed to support a wide variety of VPP application. However, we are yet to see a huge uptake for VPP application and standardization in use-cases.
There are several innovations taking place across the energy storage market and it has certainly come a long way since the inverter and lead acid battery that my father installed in our house. While the technology continues to advance, the question remains singular: how can we provide affordable, reliable energy across the globe? Energy storage continues to play a critical role in answering that question.
Aaroh Kharaya is the Product Manager for Energy Storage at Clean Energy Associates (CEA) and a licensed professional engineer.
— Solar Builder magazine