The idea of capturing energy for later use is certainly not a new concept. From gathering and storing plants and seeds until needed to fuel our bodies with energy, to capturing wind and solar power to feed our modern-day needs for electricity, this approach is well-established. The United States is continuously looking to expand energy generating technologies, specifically those that offer renewable options. In 2016 the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that electrical-generating facilities are expected to add more than 26 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale capacity to the power grid. The majority will be from three sources - solar (9.5 GW), natural gas (8.0 GW) and wind (6.8 GW). If actual energy additions follow this plan, 2016 will be the first year additions to solar-based generation will exceed all other energy generating methods.1
Much of this can be attributed to lower battery production costs, which serves as the primary system for collecting solar energy. As technology enhancements lower production costs, more deployment of renewable energy options become possible.
In simplest terms “renewable energy resources are naturally replenishing but flow‐limiting. They are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy available per unit of time.”2 Capturing this energy potential for later consumption requires technologies that can harness these energy sources for integration into existing electrical power grids. The amount of electricity that can be generated is relatively fixed, but demand fluctuates throughout the day. These fluctuations are normally predictable and the use of renewable energy storage systems can smoothly manage the power supply needs at their greatest peak demands. For example, excess electrical energy generated by solar power during the day can be used throughout the night. Energy storage systems are designed to accumulate energy when production exceeds demand and to make it available when needed.
The energy storage industry continues to evolve as advances in technology have created more options and opportunities. The Energy Storage Association has divided energy storage technologies into six main categories3:
An in‐depth analysis of each of these technologies provides insight into their applications, service capabilities, and limitations.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, thermal energy storage is perhaps the most economical and widely used storage technology.14 This technology, specifically sensible heating storage, is normally connected directly to the heating or cooling system serving a dedicated location such as a commercial building or manufacturing facility. It is integrated into a building’s HVAC system.
These various energy storage systems offer important benefits. Primarily, they enable storing power during low demand periods and subsequently releasing and using that power during high demand periods or when renewable power systems are unable to generate power. That said, it takes a strong commitment and financial backing to support the requirements necessary to implement such systems. Furthermore, they are not all “clean” and without their own significant hazards.
As researchers continue to develop and enhance viable renewable energy storage options, there needs to be willingness on the part of government, private industry and consumers to recognize and accept both the advantages and disadvantages of these systems. Much of the technology for energy storage systems already exists and is deployed to varying degrees around the world. Through continued study, convincing evidence may emerge reinforcing these energy storage options as better suited to meet our power needs while sustaining a safer environment.
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1 (March 1, 2016). “Solar, natural gas, wind make up most 2016 generation additions.” U.S. Energy Information Administration. Accessed December 2016. http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=25172
2 U. S. Energy Information Administration Glossary. Definition of renewable energy resources. Accessed January 2017. http://www.eia.gov/tools/glossary/index.cfm?id=R
3 “Energy Storage Technologies.” Energy Storage Association. Access January 2017. http://energystorage.org/energy‐storage/energy‐storage‐technologies
4 Ibid 3
5 Ibid 3
6 Ibid 3
7 “Flow Battery‐Applications.” Wikipedia. Accessed January 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery#Applications
8 Putnam, Christopher, S. (October 12, 2007, Updated 20, February 2016). “The Mechanical Battery.” Accessed January 2017. https://www.damninteresting.com/the‐mechanical‐battery/
9 “How Energy Works.” Union of Concerned Scientists Science for a healthy planet and safety world. Accessed January 2017. http://www.ucsusa.org/clean‐energy/how‐energy‐storage‐works#bf‐toc‐ 4
10 Ibid 8
11 Ibid 9
12 Romm, Joe. (August 31, 2009). “The Holy Grail of clean energy economy is in sight: Affordable storage for wind and solar.” Think Progress. Accessed January 2017. https://thinkprogress.org/the‐holy‐grail-of‐cleanenergy‐economy‐is‐in‐sight‐affordable‐storagefor‐ wind‐and‐solar‐378d8117c286#.cqt6ab1pp
13 (January 2013). “Thermal Energy Storage ‐ Technical Brief” IRENA. Accessed January 2017, https://www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publicatio/IRENAETSAP%20Tech%20Brief%20E17%20Thermal%20Energy%20Storage.pdf
14 Ibid 2
15 (June 29, 2012). “Electricity storage: Location, location, location…and cost” U.S. Energy Information Administration. Accessed January 2017. http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=6910
16 Ibid 3
17 “Fact Sheet to accompany the report ‘Pathways for Energy Storage in the UK’”. Low Carbon Futures. Accessed January 2017. http://www.lowcarbonfutures.org/sites/default/files/CAES_final_0.pdf
18 “Thermal Energy Storage.” Energy Storage Sense. Accessed January