Energy Storage Technologies Empower the Grid of the Future

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As Renewables Boom, Companies Explore Energy Storage Technology

NPR, April 4, 2016


Batteries can store energy for later, but companies are looking for cheaper alternatives. Three reporters examine technologies that employ air, salt and ice.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Renewable energy like solar and wind is finally coming of age. Costs are way down. Of course, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow when we need it to. It’s All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: Today the race to store energy – as our three stories point out, it is going far beyond the typical battery. Lauren Sommer from member station KQED in California starts us off.

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Like a lot of solar companies in California, things have been have extremely busy for Recurrent Energy and its vice president, Michael Wheeler. In his San Francisco office, he points to a screen showing how all their solar farms are doing.

MICHAEL WHEELER: Pretty much every day, we hit peak output.

SOMMER: But earlier this spring, something happened that at first doesn’t seem to make any sense. It was the middle of the day when one of their solar farms was cranking out electricity, and they got a message.

WHEELER: The grid operator is telling us they don’t need all of it.

SOMMER: There was too much electricity on the grid. The folks managing the grid were telling solar farms to shut down.

WHEELER: Project went from almost peak output to zero for about two hours.

SOMMER: This often happens in the spring when Californians aren’t using a lot of air-conditioning yet, and it’s only expected to get worse as solar keeps growing. The state plans to get fully half of its electricity from renewable sources in just 15 years.

WHEELER: We built these solar projects, and to the extent that we have to turn them off more and more often doesn’t make a lot of sense. It would be a lot better to figure out uses for that electricity.

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