The Quest for Storing Electricity

It’s generally accepted that wind and solar require storage if they are to be utilized on the grid without the very expensive cost of back-up power, such as from gas turbines.

California has issued a mandate requiring the addition of 1.3 GW of energy storage to the grid by 2020. In October 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) mandated that 200 MW of this goal come in the form of energy storage installed in individual buildings and homes.

California is not alone in recognizing the necessity for storage to support renewables, such as wind and solar.

California can force the adoption of storage no matter what the cost, but is this good for consumers? Does it establish a bad precedent for the country? And is it realistic?

The latest information suggests that only batteries have the possibility of creating large amounts of storage in the near future. Of all the storage installed during 2014, 70% used Lithium-ion batteries, according to GTM Research.

Other alternatives, except for pumped storage, are more pie-in-the sky ideas, or have limited applications.

Even pumped storage is unrealistic unless a reservoir is already in place.

Pumped storage requires building a dam, and there are only a limited number of locations for new reservoirs. Dams are expensive, and are usually objected to by radical environmentalists.

Some of the remaining alternatives include:

  • Hydrogen, produced from electricity when it isn’t needed on the grid, which can be used to power a gas turbine to generate electricity.
  • Compressed Air (CAES), where air is compressed using electricity when it isn’t needed by the grid.
  • Ice, where electricity is used to run a refrigerator to produce ice, which, when it melts, can return the energy to run a generator.
  • Other heat storage, such as salt beds, to store heat for use later, to run a turbine to generate electricity. Salt beds and concrete have been used for concentrating solar projects.
  • Flywheels where electricity is stored as kinetic energy in a spinning rotor, primarily for frequency correction, a special type of requirement.
Huntorf, Germany, CAES plant. Photo from DOE.
Huntorf, Germany, CAES plant. Photo from DOE.

While PV rooftop solar is being extolled by activists, most homeowners don’t want to spend the money for batteries that would allow them to disconnect from the grid.

Homeowners with PV rooftop solar want to sponge off the grid to save money, and to provide backup for when the sun doesn’t shine.

According to GTM research, 90% of all storage in 2014, was installed by utilities.

GTM also predicts that storage, based on size, will more than triple in 2015, compared with 2014.

This large increase is primarily due to California’s mandate requiring the installation of storage.

Little thought is being given to the environmental impact of manufacturing and disposing of batteries, which are the only realistic method for providing storage.

From available data, the installed cost of storage is $2,100 per KW.

This is twice the cost of building a new natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plant.

The NGCC power plant is also superior to batteries because it can provide electricity for long periods of time, not for just a few hours.

It also doesn’t have to be replaced after a few years, as do batteries. With batteries, the $2,100 / KW cost must be incurred every time they are replaced.

Storage to support wind and solar is fundamentally unrealistic and expensive, and bad for consumers.

Essentially, the only reason for incurring the cost of storage is to help cut CO2 emissions.


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