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Power Government

Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed 245

ashshy writes Unlike the obvious battery needs for smartphones or electric cars, many consumers are unaware of the exploding need for enormous battery banks as modern power grids are bringing a whole new set of requirements. From the article: "'Our electricity grid was built a certain way, and that way is to have on-demand production,' Argonne National Laboratory battery researcher Jeff Chamberlain explained. 'So as I flip my light switch on at home, there's some little knob somewhere that turns the power up. There is no buffer. It's a very interesting production cycle compared to other consumer goods. It was built a certain way, and the grid is currently changing in two different ways. One is, first our demand is increasing. But another is, around the world human beings are trying to get off fossil fuels and that means using solar and wind. Well, we cannot turn up the sun or wind, or turn down the sun or wind according to our energy needs. So the more those technologies penetrate the grid, the more you need energy storage. You need a buffer. And that is a very difficult challenge that's similar to transportation because it's cost-driven,' Chamberlain said. 'But it's also different from transportation because we're not limited by volume or mass like we are in vehicles. We're working on energy storage systems that are stationary.'"
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Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed

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  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @03:38PM (#47802053) Homepage Journal
    Storage could be nice and also substitute for transmission but it may not be as large a market as they anticipate: []
  • by bugnuts ( 94678 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:08PM (#47802225) Journal

    I've been posting about this, and the spin some politicians are pushing is reprehensible. Recently, Arizona allowed fees [] to charge rooftop-based solar energy producers for the privilege of selling or donating electrons to others for use. A few incredible or insane politicians are trying to spin it as if solar adopters are leeches despite the fact that they already pay for interconnect fees and all the excess energy they use.

    The alternative, of course, is to go completely off the grid using your own batteries, which will end up costing the power companies (and the politicians in their pockets) even more.

    But it's not all without a shred of truth. There are definitely some costs associated with high adoption rates of solar, and the breakdown is pretty easy to explain:

    • Substations convert and distribute 220 to your neighborhood, from high tension wires from the power plants.
    • Substations convert one direction only -- from the high-voltage to the line voltage.
    • High usage is generally in the warm daytime, through early evening.
    • Solar covers most of the high usage times. Some companies charge more for energy use during these times.

    This works great for the power companies when a few people on one substation have some solar power generators, because they feed it back into the grid for use by those without solar. As a result, the power company can charge the full amount for the electrons used (often at higher prices), but they don't have to transfer it long distances which inevitably carries loss due to capacitance and resistance. And they get all of this without investing in the cost of increased production at the power plants.

    This also works great for the solar generators, because they reduce their use during the most expensive times, and usually push themselves into a lower usage tier due to overall reduced usage. A household that uses 500kWh might only draw 100kWh net from the grid over a month, and the first 100 are usually very cheap. Some places pay for excess electrons put onto the grid, others do not.

    But here's the limitation: if all your neighbors have solar, it will exceed consumption during times of bright sunlight. In other words, the substation will send out no energy (nobody needs it), and in fact cannot backfeed it to other substations. This can cause a real issue when there's a surplus. Line voltage may even go up from 110 to around 130. This is when they need energy storage. Batteries are one method, but flywheels can work well, too. They could spin up a flywheel to consume the excess energy, then release it later as-needed (e.g. a dark cloud). In fact, they can spin up a flywheel at nighttime, too, when they have excess production, to smooth out daytime use. It's not just for independent generating stations, but this infrastructure will smooth out their plants for normal use, too.

    Some unscrupulous legislators are trying to saddle solar generators with the cost of those who choose not to use solar. They claim exactly the opposite, that the solar producers are driving up costs. Really, they're making a needed upgrade more obvious and in any case, there is literally no way they are "driving up costs" by reducing their own usage. That fails the basic 5th grader test.

    Localizing the storage is far more efficient than sending it hundreds of miles, plus it future proofs the obvious issues of people inevitably moving away from coal and natural gas generators. These local storage solutions or backfeeding substations should be pushed by all, even those without solar generation.

  • Re:flywheel (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:35PM (#47802373)

    Pumped storage costs about $200 million per GWh of electricity stored to build. It needs specific geography, high and low reservoirs close to each other to reduce losses pumping water uphill over long distances. It also needs a guaranteed supply of water, lots of it and the sunny parts of the US where large amounts of solar power are being generated are distinctly lacking in water to the point of being either deserts or often in drought conditions during the summer. Pumped storage is also lossy, typically about 65% efficient round-trip.

    Mass battery technology costs about ten times as much as pumped storage ($2 million per MWh for sodium/sulfur batteries from NGK), flywheels are a bit less but still a lot more than pumped storage. Cheaper methods of energy storage like compressed air tend to be very lossy.

    Grid gas, coal and nuclear generators don't need storage as they either run flat out to meet the instantaneous demand and they can throttle back in quieter times. At the moment intermittent wind and solar generators use the grid as free storage but the more intermittent power that is added to the generating mix the more that storage will be needed to deal with peak inputs and debits. Getting wind and solar farm operators to pay for this extra storage probably isn't going to happen, sadly.

  • Re:Build more nukes! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:54PM (#47802475)

    "Nukes have ramp times on order of 2-3 days...."

    Nonsense! You couldn't run nuclear ships if that were true! You can design nuclear reactors to have any ramp time you like.

    Current Grid-connected nuclear power stations are designed to provide base load, where ramp time is irrelevant. Bu they don't have to be...

  • by xQx ( 5744 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @07:15PM (#47803135) []

    Basically the same technology used in aluminum smelter, with liquid salt for the battery...

    Does anyone know if this ever got off the ground?

Disclaimer: "These opinions are my own, though for a small fee they be yours too." -- Dave Haynie