Electricity Generation Choices
What’s the concept behind energy storage?
Electricity is physics—there is no wiggle room in physics. Physics is the ultimate boss. Electricity must be done right or it does not work. It is the ultimate just-in-time product. It must be consumed the instant it is created.
- Electricity cannot be stored readily. In the electricity sector, we often refer to hydro electric facilities as giant batteries. They are the exception; the only type of base load generation that can be readily turned on and off according to demand. At periods of low demand the reservoir becomes a giant holding tank of available electricity generation. In some cases, the water is pumped back up and stored in the reservoir during off-peak time, only to be run through the generating station a second time when needed. There is no economically viable technology to store electricity, or energy from electricity, once it has been generated.
- The race is on to find the optimum suite of energy storage technologies (both electric and thermal technologies) that can complement electric utility scale systems and meet customer needs to have reliable, sustainable and affordable electricity.
- If energy storage can be developed in a cost effective manner, it could prove to be the solution to widespread integration of intermittent renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power. Given the focus of energy policy in Canada, energy storage is critical to the success of policy goals of de-carbonization as well as to enabling a true “Smart Grid”.
- Electricity fuel choices like wind and solar are tricky because they only produce electricity intermittently. Energy storage has the ability to smooth out the variability in power flow from renewable generation, so that renewable generation can be more easily brought onto our ever-flowing electricity grid.
- There are numerous technologies and issues when exploring how, when, and why energy storage could fit into the electricity grid—from large generation plants to overnight vehicle charging. There are numerous challenges to energy storage development. The question of “who will pay for it” is a key challenge. Who does the onus fall upon? Project sponsors, rate regulated utilities, system operators or governments?
- Energy storage can provide key services such as supplying peak electricity demand by using electricity stored during periods of lower demand. This would allow us to balance electricity supply and demand fluctuations within seconds, and would mean that we could defer, to some extent, an investment in the expansion of our electrical grid.