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Energy storage coming to a power grid near you
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Written by Daniel   
Friday, 27 June 2008 11:44
Energy storage coming to a power grid near you
June 27, 2008 4:00 AM PDT
Posted by Martin LaMonica

Someday, the electricity grid will operate with the equivalent of a giant hard drive. But in the short term, grid storage will look more like a PC's cache or RAM, able to serve up small bursts of power to keep things from crashing.

A panel of experts, organized by the New England Clean Energy Council, earlier this week said that the utility storage field has enormous potential. But rapid deployment of storage devices is held back by concerns over technology risk and financial complexity.

Technology optimists say that wide-scale energy storage will change the face of the transmission grid and make wind and solar power more compelling economically.

In this scenario, utilities store electricity made from renewable sources or produced during off-peak times. Then, when demand for electricity peaks in the middle of the day, they could draw from the stored-up charge.

This "peak shaving" practice avoids the need to build new power plants to meet growing demand. Utilities could also idle dirty and expensive "peaking plants," which are only turned on during times of high demand, such as very hot summer days when air conditioners max out the load.

But moving megawatts' worth of electricity around the grid like files on a computer is more theory than practice these days.

"Buying power at night and then selling it during the day--something like that will happen maybe in 30 or 40 years when storage technologies are one-tenth the costs they are today," said Ric Fulop, co-founder and vice president of business development at lithium-ion battery company A123 Systems.

But as utilities try out new technologies for different uses, Fulop and others predicted that storage will start to take hold in a variety of ways.

"I think we will see a lot of deployments in the next few years that will change how the grid works," Fulop said. "Then we'll see utilities jump on the bandwagon."

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