Energy Storage: Power Revolution

By Peter Fairley, Nature

It is 2025 and another sweltering summer’s day in California. Millions of solar panels are soaking up the Sun’s rays to power the air-conditioning systems that keep homes and offices throughout the state cool. The devices are working efficiently thanks to an intelligent conversation taking place between the appliances and the electrical grid. As clouds drift across the Sun, casting shadows, the air conditioners deftly increase or decrease their output in sync with the varying flow of solar energy. In areas where the demand for electricity looks as though it will overload the power-transmission lines, home air-conditioning units take it in turns to go offline for an hour. In other areas, where solar power threatens to exceed demand, hot-water heaters are turned on to absorb the extra energy.

This imagined future power grid demonstrates the same degree of flexibility that energy-storage advocates predict will occur with the widespread implementation of batteries, but there is no electrochemistry involved — software manipulates energy-consuming equipment so that most electricity is used when it is most abundant, cheap or green.

The concept is called ‘demand dispatch’, because it would activate and deactivate power demand — much as grid operators dynamically dispatch electricity generated by power plants today. In the future, power grids will probably use both the ‘virtual storage’ created by demand dispatch and the true energy storage from batteries. But demand dispatch could be the bigger player of the two, with smart use of existing appliances offering a smaller environmental footprint and slimmer price tag than batteries.

Read full article in Nature

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