Above: Image © istockphoto.com/Urban78

Energy storage is often described as “the missing link” needed to efficiently match supply and demand in the electricity system. Throughout the day, the amount of electricity being produced needs to be adjusted to match the amount being consumed. Generating too much or too little electricity can cause issues like blackouts and brownouts. The ability to store electricity for long periods can help improve the efficiency, sustainability, and reliability of the system.

Did you know? As of early 2014, there were over 600 energy storage projects underway worldwide. The electricity Canadians use on a daily basis comes from a variety of different sources including renewables (wind turbines, solar panels and hydropower facilities), nuclear power plants, natural gas plants, and coal-burning generators. Once electricity is generated, it must then travel through the grid—a highly sophisticated and interconnected network of transmission and distribution lines—before it reaches your home.

Although renewables provide the cleanest form of electricity, they are intermittent by nature: the wind is not always blowing and the sun is not always shining. Managing the variability of renewables is a major challenge for system operators who control the flow of electricity. Sometimes, electricity is produced when there is already more than enough or not enough is produced when it is actually needed. In some cases, generation is intentionally reduced to ensure there is not a significant oversupply of electricity.

To better understand the role and importance of energy storage,

you need to be familiar with how the entire electricity system works.

The Ontario Ministry of Energy’s emPOWERme website features a variety of interactive videos and tools that describe how electricity is produced, distributed, and used.

System operators use historical trends and advanced computer models to predict the amount of electricity that will be required on any given day, at any given time. This allows them to accurately plan how much electricity needs to be produced. Although turning on the lights in your home may not seem like a large use of electricity, it can add up when you consider there may be hundreds of thousands of people requiring electricity to power their lights and other electronics at the exact same time. All of that electricity needs to come from somewhere. And you expect it to be supplied right when you need it.

Energy storage technologies can store excess electricity when too much has been produced and supply additional electricity when more is needed. This flexibility is essential to the efficient and effective operation of the electricity system. There are currently a variety of innovative energy storage technologies available, including those offered by battery, flywheel, and compressed air energy storage providers. These technologies can be customized to store different amounts of electricity (from enough energy to power your home to enough to power an entire region) for different periods of time (from minutes to days).

Did you know? Flywheels—a form of energy storage—have been in use for hundreds of years in a variety of different applications.The diversity of these technologies and their inherent flexibility means they are capable of improving the grid in many different ways. For example, instead of reducing output from wind generators when there is too much supply on the grid (this typically happens during low demand hours, after you turn off the lights), excess clean electricity could be stored for later use. That way, there will be less need to generate additional electricity from non-renewable resources when demand increases again.

Energy storage can help reduce the overall cost of electricity to consumers, promote the growth of renewable generation, improve system efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Energy storage is increasingly becoming an essential component of modern electricity system planning and development. These advanced technologies are the key to delivering energy that is both reliable and sustainable.

References

Energy 101: Electricity Generation (YouTube.com/energynownews) How do Batteries Work? (YouTube.com/MocomiKids) NRStor: Inspiring The Grid 633 Energy Storage Projects Now Underway Worldwide (Silvio Marcacci, CleanTechnica) Sustainable Energy and the Return of the Fly(wheel) (Tina Casey, CleanTechnica) What we do: Energy Storage (General Compression)

Geoff Osborne

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