The NEC Energy Solutions Blog

Solar conference highlights growing importance of energy storage

This year's Intersolar North America conference represents a turning point in the sector as energy storage strategies emerged as a key point of discussion at the event. According to a recent Greentech Media report, the overarching conversation at the conference involved lots of discussions about energy storage, lithium ion batteries and various emerging battery technologies that are becoming more important in the growing solar market.

The rise of energy storage was so evident that there were entire tracks of storage discussions stretching over multiple days of the event this year, compared to just a one-hour session last year. Within these conversations, there was an emphasis on the growing role of lithium ion batteries.

The future of lithium ion batteries in the grid
According to the report, Michael Starke, electrical engineering researcher with the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, told audiences at the event that there is an overarching theme among researchers at the lab to reduce the costs of energy storage over the course of the next few years. This cost reduction is aiming at bringing expenses down from approximately $1,000 per kilowatt hour to $100 per kilowatt hour, which is being targeted with newer battery chemistries – but one shouldn't ignore existing battery technologies.

Discussions at the event emphasized that as the industry currently stands, lithium ion batteries are ideal for frequency regulation and efforts to reduce the strain on power lines facing voltage-related stress. Indeed, there are multiple locations around the world where lithium ion batteries are being successfully used for these applications – many of them not in pilot projects, but in commercial revenue service.  With increasing usage of electric vehicles, increasing amounts of renewable generation at distributed locations at the edge of the grid, and decreasing amounts of traditional combustion-fired generation, the need for flexible assets like energy storage will grow through the roof.

The report explained that lithium ion technology may end up presenting the best option for the impending grid energy storage requirements due to not only its breadth of applications, including EV's spanning not only passenger vehicles but also commercial vehicles like transit buses, but also its maturity, the experience that's already been learned, and its massive existing manufacturing base.

Variable renewables and EVs – A new energy future
Fluctuating demand has always been a problem for utility providers, but the issue is only going to escalate as more variable renewables like solar come online – now creating the uncontrollable fluctuations in generation as well. At the same time, the rise of EVs is creating an environment in which energy providers need to be ready for huge spikes in demand when commuters come home from work and plug their cars in for the night. Trends like this are emphasizing the importance of reliability and flexibility in the future grid, two attributes that are delivered most effectively with energy storage.

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