The heatwave in the northeast US seems to be setting new records for power consumption - the NYT has an article on interest in increasing energy storage capacity to help make the grid more reliable - Battery Seen as Way to Cut Heat-Related Power Losses.
As scorching weather envelops the Northeast and the Midwest, electric utilities are scrambling to keep the power on while air-conditioners strain utilities’ capacity. By Tuesday afternoon in New York City and Westchester County, for instance, Consolidated Edison had logged nearly 7,700 interruptions since the heat arrived on Sunday, and it had dispatched crews to restore almost all of the power.
Such disruptions have plagued utilities for years: how do they keep extra electricity on hand and ready to go, avoiding the need to cut the voltage in stressed neighborhoods and lowering the risk of blackouts?
Now, several utilities, including Con Edison, National Grid and the large European utilities Enel and GDF SUEZ, have signed up to fine-tune and test what they hope could lead to an answer — a battery half the size of a refrigerator from Eos Energy Storage, the company said Tuesday. If the testing goes well, the batteries hold the promise of providing storage that until now has been unaffordable on a large scale. “Energy storage is no longer an idea and a theory — it’s actually a practical reality,” said Steve Hellman, Eos’s president. “You’re seeing a lot of commercial activity in the energy storage sector.”
Part of the appeal is economic: utilities could buy power from centralized plants during off-peak hours, when it is cheaper, and use it to feed the grid at peak hours when it is typically more expensive. That could also relieve congestion on some transmission lines, reducing strain and the need to spend money upgrading or repairing them. In addition, batteries could help integrate more renewable sources like solar and wind into the power grid, smoothing out their intermittent production.
“Energy storage in general has been kind of a holy grail for utilities — a lot of the generation and demand is instantaneous,” said Joseph Carbonara, project manager in research and development at Con Edison, who is managing the Eos program. “The utilities have always been looking to buffer that.”
Utilities and institutions across the country, many with grants from federal or state energy departments, are testing energy storage technologies. Con Edison and the City University of New York are using a different zinc-based battery from Urban Electric Power to help reduce the school’s peak energy use as part of a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority program. In California, Pacific Gas and Electric is studying sodium-sulfur batteries that can store more than six hours of energy. And Duke Energy is working with lead acid batteries from Xtreme Power that are linked to a wind farm in Texas.
At the same time, there are a host of start-ups racing to develop different technologies for a wide range of applications, and already there are some large-scale batteries tied to the grid. But the technology has generally proved too expensive for widespread adoption.
Eos says it has gotten around that problem. Its battery relies on zinc, a relatively plentiful and cheap element. The company projects that its cost will be $160 a kilowatt-hour, and that it would provide electricity cheaper than a new gas power plant built to help fulfill periods of high demand, Eos executives said. Other battery technologies can range from $400 to about $1,000 a kilowatt-hour.