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Energy storage is seen as the next frontier in energy research and development.
Because power from solar energy, for example, can be generated only over a relatively short period of time – during daylight hours – electricity storage devices are needed to better manage the amount of power required to supply customers at times when need is greatest.
In other words, generation and load could be managed more effectively.
American entrepreneurs have invested over US$5bn in battery research and development over the last decade, which has helped fuel a renaissance in new battery technology, according to the US congressional subcommittee on energy.
And the US Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability said energy storage and power electronics hold "substantial promise for transforming the electric power industry."
The major industry challenge is to drive down the cost of energy storage and power electronics so that it is commercially viable for developers to invest in this technology.
Research is being carried out in the areas of batteries (both conventional and advanced), flywheels, electrochemical capacitors, superconducting magnetic storage (SMES), power electronics, and control systems.
"The grid-connected utility-scale battery storage market is expanding rapidly, driven by impressive technological breakthroughs and growth in manufacturing capabilities. The rising profile of the market has caught the attention of governments, which are now rolling out favourable policy initiatives such as subsidies, preferential tariffs and targets in core markets," UK consulting firm Frost & Sullivan said.
"The global growth in variable renewable energy generation, particularly wind and photovoltaics, has altered regulatory policies relating to renewable energy's interconnection with the grid. This is fuelling the demand for grid-modernisation through rapid response storage technologies such as battery energy storage systems (BESS)," it added.
Energy storage is also key to getting power to the 34mn in Latin America who are without power. With batteries, says Donald Sadoway, a renowned professor of materials chemistry at MIT, many parts of the world can leapfrog technologies – skipping out on the big utilities – straight to distributed, individual generation systems.
One innovative example in the region is Enel Green Power's Ollague hybrid project, which includes PV panels, a wind turbine, a battery system and a diesel generator, all of which will supply energy to Ollagüe village in northern Chile using a central energy management system.
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