Most of the electricity we use is created on demand. When you flip on a light switch, electricity is generated and sent immediately to power the lightbulb. To meet power needs, independently managed regional balancing authorities control the generation and transmission of electricity within a specific area. When weather or utility equipment breakdowns disrupt transmission, or when demand exceeds the capacity available to generate power, residents and businesses experience an electrical blackout. You may be wondering: Batteries may reduce carbon footprint but is there a way to avoid power blackouts?
With extreme weather becoming more common and the U.S. utility infrastructure in need of upgrades, power outages seem unavoidable. Blackouts jumped +9% in 2016 and were more widespread, affecting 33% more people, according to the latest Eaton’s U.S. Blackout Tracker. And among the top 15 U.S. utilities, the most recently reported average downtime was more than two hours, with some outages averaging more than seven hours. Even though these are sobering statistics, it is possible to avoid power blackouts.
Using Renewable Energy with Storage
Transitioning to renewable energy sources like wind, water and solar with storage capabilities is one approach. A panel of researchers, led by Stanford University, recently proposed a plan to shift to 100% renewables and keep the power grid stable by relying on storage to avoid blackouts. Importantly, their research showed strong financial benefits. The cost per unit of energy, including health and climate costs would save 75% of the costs associated with the current energy structure.
Adding Storage Capabilities to the Current Grid
Incorporating storage into the existing electrical grid is a more immediate option for avoiding power blackouts. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources is requiring utilities to integrate large-scale batteries into their systems by 2020. These batteries can capture energy from the grid, store it during non-peak times, and then deliver it when demand increases.
Creating Micro or Customer Grids
Microgrids are small-scale operations functioning independently from the main grid. Some rely on renewable energy and storage, or storage to hold grid-produced power generated in non-peak times to control their power supply. Microgrids can vary in size, from a neighborhood business district to a single location like an airport or residence.
Vanadium Batteries – Versatile, Safe and Reliable
Ernest Moniz, nuclear physicist and former Secretary of Energy, points to flow batteries as the solution for energy storage.
“Flow batteries is one of the most interesting directions for storage,” Moniz says, “because, roughly speaking, the energy is stored outside the battery rather than inside.”
Vanadium batteries offer several advantages for energy storage, including a longer cycle than lithium ion batteries and longer lifespans than lead acid or lithium ion options, up to 25 years, without any degradation in capacity. Size versatility enables vanadium batteries to be used broadly, from small systems to large utilities.
Power blackouts are becoming more familiar to all of us. But with energy storage options like vanadium batteries from StorEn becoming more widely available, you can keep the lights on.