Grid energy storage
Grid energy storage (also called large-scale energy storage) refers to the methods used to store electricity on a large scale within an electrical power grid. Electrical energy is stored during times when production (from power plants especially intermittent renewable electricity sources such as wind power, tidal power, solar power) exceeds consumption and when additional discretionary load is turned on but consumption is still insufficient to absorb it.
- 1 Benefits of storage and managing peak load
- 2 Forms
- 3 Economics
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
- 7 Suggested reading
Benefits of storage and managing peak load
The stores are used - feeding power to the grid - at times when consumption that cannot be deferred or delayed exceeds production. In this way, electricity production need not be drastically scaled up and down to meet momentary consumption – instead, transmission from the combination of generators plus storage facilities is maintained at a more constant level.
An alternate and complementary approach to achieve the same effect as grid energy storage is to use a smart grid communication infrastructure to enable Demand response (DR). Both of these technologies shift energy usage and transmission of power on the grid from one time (when it's not useful) to another (when it's desperately immediately needed).
Any electrical power grid must adapt energy production to energy consumption, both of which vary drastically over time. Any combination of energy storage and demand response has these advantages:
- fuel-based power plants (i.e. coal, oil, gas, nuclear) can be more efficiently and easily operated at constant production levels
- electricity generated by (or with the potential to be generated by) intermittent sources can be stored and used later, whereas it would otherwise have to be transmitted for sale elsewhere, or simply wasted
- peak generating or transmission capacity can be reduced by the total potential of all storage plus deferrable loads (see demand side management), saving expense of this capacity
- more stable pricing: the cost of the storage and/or demand management is included in pricing so there is less variance in power rates charged to customers or alternatively (if rates are kept stable by law) less loss to the utility from expensive on-peak wholesale power rates when peak demand must be met by imported wholesale power
- emergency preparedness—vital needs can be met reliably even with no transmission or generation going on while non-essential needs are deferred
Energy derived from photovoltaic and wind sources inherently varies – the amount of electrical energy produced varies with time, day of the week, season, and random factors such as the weather. Thus, renewables present special challenges to electric utilities. While hooking up many wind sources can reduce the variability, solar is reliably not available at night except when stored in molten salt, and tidal power shifts with the moon so is never reliably available on peak demand.
How much this affects any given utility varies significantly. In a summer peak utility, more solar can generally be absorbed and matched to demand. In winter peak utilities, to a lesser degree, wind correlates to heating demand and can be used to meet that demand. Depending on these factors, beyond about 20-40% of total generation, grid-connected intermittent energy sources such as photovoltaics and wind turbines tend to require investment in either grid energy storage or demand side management or both.
In an electrical power grid without energy storage, energy sources that rely on energy stored within fuels (coal, oil, gas, nuclear) must be scaled up and down to match the rise and fall of energy production from intermittent energy sources (see load following power plant). While oil and gas plants can be scaled up when wind dies down quickly, coal and nuclear plants take considerable time to respond to load. Utilities with less gas or oil power generation are thus more reliant on demand management and grid storage.
The French consulting firm Yole Développement figures this “stationary storage” market could be a $13.5 billion opportunity by 2023, compared with less than $1 billion in 2015.
Demand side management and grid storage
As of 2014, most demand side management is small scale and in pilot phase. A few large scale projects in Europe link industrial food freezer load - which can vary in temperature a few degrees safely - to wind power. In North America, water heaters, deferred drying and dishwashing and electric vehicle charging represent major opportunities for demand management.
Whether or not to consider more-deeply-frozen food or more-heated water or a still-dirty dish or wet clothing a form of energy storage is debatable. Electric vehicles can act as a mobile dispatch battery - portable grid storage -  but this gives rise to concerns about its charging lifespan. A more conventional approach is to use unreliable vehicle batteries in large scale grid storage  as they are expected to be good in this role for ten years . If such storage is done on a large scale it becomes much easier to guarantee replacement of a vehicle battery damaged by mobile dispatch, as the damaged battery has value and immediate use.
A report released in December 2013 by the United States Department of Energy further describes the potential benefits of energy storage and demand side technologies to the electric grid: “Modernizing the electric system will help the nation meet the challenge of handling projected energy needs—including addressing climate change by integrating more energy from renewable sources and enhancing efficiency from non-renewable energy processes. Advances to the electric grid must maintain a robust and resilient electricity delivery system, and energy storage can play a significant role in meeting these challenges by improving the operating capabilities of the grid, lowering cost and ensuring high reliability, as well as deferring and reducing infrastructure investments. Finally, energy storage can be instrumental for emergency preparedness because of its ability to provide backup power as well as grid stabilization services.”  The report was written by a core group of developers representing Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, ARPA-E, Office of Science, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Sandia National Laboratories, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; all of whom are engaged in the development of grid energy storage.
As of March 2012, pumped-storage hydroelectricity (PSH) was the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage available; the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) reported that PSH accounted for more than 99% of bulk storage capacity worldwide, around 127,000 MW. PSH energy efficiency varies in practice between 70% to 75%.
This and other forms of storage are addressed in depth below.
60 - 90% efficient
Another grid energy storage method is to use off-peak or renewably generated electricity to compress air, which is usually stored in an old mine or some other kind of geological feature. When electricity demand is high, the compressed air is heated with a small amount of natural gas and then goes through turboexpanders to generate electricity.
Another electricity storage method is to compress and cool air, turning it into liquid air, which can be stored, and expanded when needed, turning a turbine, generating electricity, with a storage efficiency of up to 70%.
Battery storage was used in the early days of direct current electric power. Where AC grid power was not readily available, isolated lighting plants run by wind turbines or internal combustion engines provided lighting and power to small motors. The battery system could be used to run the load without starting the engine or when the wind was calm. A bank of lead-acid batteries in glass jars both supplied power to illuminate lamps, as well as to start an engine to recharge the batteries.
Battery systems connected to large solid-state converters have been used to stabilize power distribution networks. For example, in Puerto Rico a system with a capacity of 20 megawatts for 15 minutes (5 megawatt hour) is used to stabilize the frequency of electric power produced on the island. A 27 megawatt 15-minute (6.75 megawatt hour) nickel-cadmium battery bank was installed at Fairbanks Alaska in 2003 to stabilize voltage at the end of a long transmission line. Many "off-the-grid" domestic systems rely on battery storage, but storing large amounts of electricity in batteries or by other electrical means has not yet been put to general use.
Traditional batteries are generally expensive, have high maintenance, and have limited lifespans, mainly due to pure chemical crystals that form inside the cells during the charge and discharge cycles. These crystals usually can not be re-dissolved back into the electrolyte. They can grow large enough to apply significant mechanical pressure to interior structures inside the battery to bend plates, bulge battery casings, and short out individual cells.
Another possible technology for large-scale storage is the use of specialist large-scale batteries such as flow and liquid metal and Sodium-Ion. Sodium-sulfur batteries could also be inexpensive to implement on a large scale and have been used for grid storage in Japan and in the United States. Magnesium-antimony batteries are also being developed for use in large scale storage, based on theories developed by Donald Sadoway of MIT. Vanadium redox batteries and other types of flow batteries are also beginning to be used for energy storage including the averaging of generation from wind turbines. Battery storage has relatively high efficiency, as high as 90% or better.
Rechargeable flow batteries can be used as a rapid-response storage medium. Vanadium redox flow batteries are currently installed at Huxley Hill wind farm (Australia), Tomari Wind Hills at Hokkaidō (Japan), as well as in other non-wind farm applications. A further 12 MW·h flow battery is to be installed at the Sorne Hill wind farm (Ireland). These storage systems are designed to smooth out transient fluctuations in wind energy supply. The redox flow battery mentioned in the first article cited above has a capacity of 6 MW·h, which represents under an hour of electrical flow from this particular wind farm (at 20% capacity factor on its 30 MW rated capacity).
Hydrogen Bromide has been proposed for use in a utility-scale flow-type battery.
Another available way to store electric energy in batteries is to use lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery. They can be used for different purposes. Available power per unit changes between 100 kW·h up to 2 MW·h. Units could be connected in parallel, so there is no upper limit for capacity.
|Technology||Moving Parts||Operation at Room Temperature||Flammable||Toxic Materials||In production||Rare metals|
Companies are researching the possible use of electric vehicles to meet peak demand. A parked and plugged-in electric vehicle could sell the electricity from the battery during peak loads and charge either during night (at home) or during off-peak.
Plug-in hybrid or electric cars could be used  for their energy storage capabilities. Vehicle-to-grid technology can be employed, turning each vehicle with its 20 to 50 kWh battery pack into a distributed load-balancing device or emergency power source. This represents 2 to 5 days per vehicle of average household requirements of 10 kWh per day, assuming annual consumption of 3650 kWh. This quantity of energy is equivalent to between 40 and 300 miles (64 and 483 km) of range in such vehicles consuming 0.5 to 0.16 kWh per mile. These figures can be achieved even in home-made electric vehicle conversions. Some electric utilities plan to use old plug-in vehicle batteries (sometimes resulting in a giant battery) to store electricity However, a large disadvantage of using vehicle to grid energy storage is the fact that each storage cycle stresses the battery with one complete charge-discharge cycle. Conventional (cobalt-based) lithium ion batteries break down with the number of cycles - newer li-ion batteries do not break down significantly with each cycle, and so have much longer lives.
Mechanical inertia is the basis of this storage method. When the electric power flows into the device, an electric motor accelerates a heavy rotating disc. The motor acts as a generator when the flow of power is reversed, slowing down the disc and producing electricity. Electricity is stored as the kinetic energy of the disc. Friction must be kept to a minimum to prolong the storage time. This is often achieved by placing the flywheel in a vacuum and using magnetic bearings, tending to make the method expensive. Larger flywheel speeds allow greater storage capacity but require strong materials such as steel or composite materials to resist the centrifugal forces. The ranges of power and energy storage technology that make this method economic, however, tends to make flywheels unsuitable for general power system application; they are probably best suited to load-leveling applications on railway power systems and for improving power quality in renewable energy systems such as the 20MW system in Ireland. Applications that use flywheel storage are those that require very high bursts of power for very short durations such as tokamak and laser experiments where a motor generator is spun up to operating speed and is partially slowed down during discharge. Flywheel storage is also currently used in the form of the Diesel rotary uninterruptible power supply to provide uninterruptible power supply systems (such as those in large datacenters) for ride-through power necessary during transfer – that is, the relatively brief amount of time between a loss of power to the mains and the warm-up of an alternate source, such as a diesel generator.
This potential solution has been implemented by EDA in the Azores on the islands of Graciosa and Flores. This system uses an 18 megawatt-second flywheel to improve power quality and thus allow increased renewable energy usage. As the description suggests, these systems are again designed to smooth out transient fluctuations in supply, and could never be used to cope with an outage of couple of days or more.
Powercorp in Australia have been developing applications using wind turbines, flywheels and low load diesel (LLD) technology to maximise the wind input to small grids. A system installed in Coral Bay, Western Australia, uses wind turbines coupled with a flywheel based control system and LLDs to achieve better than 60% wind contribution to the town grid.
The Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier will use flywheels to accumulate energy from the ship's power supply, for rapid release into the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System. The shipboard power system cannot on its own supply the high power transients necessary to launch aircraft.
Hydrogen is also being developed as an electrical energy storage medium. Hydrogen is produced, then compressed or liquefied, stored, and then converted back to electrical energy or heat. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel for portable (vehicles) or stationary energy generation. Compared to pumped water storage and batteries, hydrogen has the advantage that it is a high energy density fuel.
Hydrogen can be produced either by reforming natural gas with steam or by the electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen (see hydrogen production). Reforming natural gas produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. High temperature electrolysis and high pressure electrolysis are two techniques by which the efficiency of hydrogen production may be able to be increased. Hydrogen is then converted back to electricity in an internal combustion engine, or a fuel cell which converts chemical energy into electricity without combustion, similar to the way the human body burns fuel.
The AC-to-AC efficiency of hydrogen storage has been shown to be on the order of 20 to 45%, which imposes economic constraints. The price ratio between purchase and sale of electricity must be at least proportional to the efficiency in order for the system to be economic. Hydrogen fuel cells can respond quickly enough to correct rapid fluctuations in electricity demand or supply and regulate frequency. Whether hydrogen can use natural gas infrastructure depends on the network construction materials, standards in joints, and storage pressure.
Biohydrogen is a process being investigated for producing hydrogen using biomass.
Micro combined heat and power (microCHP) can use hydrogen as a fuel.
Some nuclear power plants may be able to benefit from a symbiosis with hydrogen production. High temperature (950 to 1,000 °C) gas cooled nuclear generation IV reactors have the potential to electrolyze hydrogen from water by thermochemical means using nuclear heat as in the sulfur-iodine cycle. The first commercial reactors are expected in 2030.
A community based pilot program using wind turbines and hydrogen generators was started in 2007 in the remote community of Ramea, Newfoundland and Labrador. A similar project has been going on since 2004 on Utsira, a small Norwegian island municipality.
Underground hydrogen storage
Underground hydrogen storage is the practice of hydrogen storage in underground caverns, salt domes and depleted oil and gas fields. Large quantities of gaseous hydrogen have been stored in underground caverns by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) for many years without any difficulties. The European project Hyunder indicated in 2013 that for the storage of wind and solar energy an additional 85 caverns are required as it can't be covered by PHES and CAES systems.
Power to gas
Power to gas is a technology which converts electrical power to a gas fuel. There are 2 methods, the first is to use the electricity for water splitting and inject the resulting hydrogen into the natural gas grid. The second less efficient method is used to convert carbon dioxide and water to methane, (see natural gas) using electrolysis and the Sabatier reaction. The excess power or off peak power generated by wind generators or solar arrays is then used for load balancing in the energy grid. Using the existing natural gas system for hydrogen Fuel cell maker Hydrogenics and natural gas distributor Enbridge have teamed up to develop such a power to gas system in Canada.
Pipeline storage of hydrogen where a natural gas network is used for the storage of hydrogen. Before switching to natural gas, the German gas networks were operated using towngas, which for the most part consisted of hydrogen. The storage capacity of the German natural gas network is more than 200,000 GW·h which is enough for several months of energy requirement. By comparison, the capacity of all German pumped storage power plants amounts to only about 40 GW·h. The transport of energy through a gas network is done with much less loss (<0.1%) than in a power network (8%)[clarification needed]. The use of the existing natural gas pipelines for hydrogen was studied by NaturalHy
In 2008 world pumped storage generating capacity was 104 GW, while other sources claim 127 GW, which comprises the vast majority of all types of grid electric storage - all other types combined are some hundreds of MW.
In many places, pumped storage hydroelectricity is used to even out the daily generating load, by pumping water to a high storage reservoir during off-peak hours and weekends, using the excess base-load capacity from coal or nuclear sources. During peak hours, this water can be used for hydroelectric generation, often as a high value rapid-response reserve to cover transient peaks in demand. Pumped storage recovers about 70% to 85% of the energy consumed, and is currently the most cost effective form of mass power storage. The chief problem with pumped storage is that it usually requires two nearby reservoirs at considerably different heights, and often requires considerable capital expenditure.
Pumped water systems have high dispatchability, meaning they can come on-line very quickly, typically within 15 seconds, which makes these systems very efficient at soaking up variability in electrical demand from consumers. There is over 90 GW of pumped storage in operation around the world, which is about 3% of instantaneous global generation capacity. Pumped water storage systems, such as the Dinorwig storage system, hold five or six hours of generating capacity, and are used to smooth out demand variations.
Another example is the Tianhuangping Pumped-Storage Hydro Plant in China, which has a reservoir capacity of eight million cubic meters (2.1 billion U.S. gallons or the volume of water over Niagara Falls in 25 minutes) with a vertical distance of 600 m (1970 feet). The reservoir can provide about 13 GW·h of stored gravitational potential energy (convertible to electricity at about 80% efficiency), or about 2% of China's daily electricity consumption.
A new concept in pumped-storage is utilizing wind energy or solar power to pump water. Wind turbines or solar cells that direct drive water pumps for an energy storing wind or solar dam can make this a more efficient process but are limited. Such systems can only increase kinetic water volume during windy and daylight periods.
Hydroelectric dams with large reservoirs can also be operated to provide peak generation at times of peak demand. Water is stored in the reservoir during periods of low demand and released through the plant when demand is higher. The net effect is the same as pumped storage, but without the pumping loss. Depending on the reservoir capacity the plant can provide daily, weekly, or seasonal load following.
Many existing hydroelectric dams are fairly old (for example, the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s), and their original design predated the newer intermittent power sources such as wind and solar by decades. A hydroelectric dam originally built to provide baseload power will have its generators sized according to the average flow of water into the reservoir. Uprating such a dam with additional generators increases its peak power output capacity, thereby increasing its capacity to operate as a virtual grid energy storage unit. The United States Bureau of Reclamation reports an investment cost of $69 per kilowatt capacity to uprate an existing dam, compared to more than $400 per kilowatt for oil-fired peaking generators. While an uprated hydroelectric dam does not directly store excess energy from other generating units, it behaves equivalently by accumulating its own fuel - incoming river water - during periods of high output from other generating units. Functioning as a virtual grid storage unit in this way, the uprated dam is one of the most efficient forms of energy storage, because it has no pumping losses to fill its reservoir, only increased losses to evaporation and leakage. A dam which impounds a large reservoir can store and release a correspondingly large amount of energy, by raising and lowering its reservoir level a few meters.
Superconducting magnetic energy
Superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES) systems store energy in the magnetic field created by the flow of direct current in a superconducting coil which has been cryogenically cooled to a temperature below its superconducting critical temperature. A typical SMES system includes three parts: superconducting coil, power conditioning system and cryogenically cooled refrigerator. Once the superconducting coil is charged, the current will not decay and the magnetic energy can be stored indefinitely. The stored energy can be released back to the network by discharging the coil. The power conditioning system uses an inverter/rectifier to transform alternating current (AC) power to direct current or convert DC back to AC power. The inverter/rectifier accounts for about 2–3% energy loss in each direction. SMES loses the least amount of electricity in the energy storage process compared to other methods of storing energy. SMES systems are highly efficient; the round-trip efficiency is greater than 95%. The high cost of superconductors is the primary limitation for commercial use of this energy storage method.
Due to the energy requirements of refrigeration, and the limits in the total energy able to be stored, SMES is currently used for short duration energy storage. Therefore, SMES is most commonly devoted to improving power quality. If SMES were to be used for utilities it would be a diurnal storage device, charged from base load power at night and meeting peak loads during the day.
Superconducting magnetic energy storage technical challenges are yet to be solved for it to become practical.
In Denmark the direct storage of electricity is perceived as too expensive for very large scale usage, albeit significant usage is made of existing Norwegian Hydro. Instead, the use of existing hot water storage tanks connected to district heating schemes, heated by either electrode boilers or heat pumps, is seen as a preferable approach. The stored heat is then transmitted to dwelling using district heating pipes.
Molten salt is used to store heat collected by a solar power tower so that it can be used to generate electricity in bad weather or at night. Thermal efficiencies over one year of 99% have been predicted.
Off-peak electricity can be used to make ice from water, and the ice can be stored until the next day, when it is used to cool the air in a large building, thereby shifting that demand off-peak, or the intake air of a gas turbine generator, thus increasing the on-peak generation capacity.
A Pumped Heat Electricity Storage system uses a highly reversible heat engine/heat pump to pump heat between two storage vessels, heating one and cooling the other. The UK-based engineering company Isentropic that is developing the system claims a potential electricity-in to electricity-out round-trip efficiency of 72-80%.
Generally speaking, energy storage is economical when the marginal cost of electricity varies more than the costs of storing and retrieving the energy plus the price of energy lost in the process. For instance, assume a pumped-storage reservoir can pump to its upper reservoir a volume of water capable of producing 1,200 MW·h after all losses are factored in (evaporation and seeping in the reservoir, efficiency losses, etc.). If the marginal cost of electricity during off-peak times is $15 per MW·h, and the reservoir operates at 75% efficiency (i.e., 1,600 MW·h are consumed and 1,200 MW·h of energy are retrieved), then the total cost of filling the reservoir is $24,000. If all of the stored energy is sold the following day during peak hours for an average $40 per MW·h, then the reservoir will see revenues of $48,000 for the day, for a gross profit of $24,000.
However, the marginal cost of electricity varies because of the varying operational and fuel costs of different classes of generators. At one extreme, base load power plants such as coal-fired power plants and nuclear power plants are low marginal cost generators, as they have high capital and maintenance costs but low fuel costs. At the other extreme, peaking power plants such as gas turbine natural gas plants burn expensive fuel but are cheaper to build, operate and maintain. To minimize the total operational cost of generating power, base load generators are dispatched most of the time, while peak power generators are dispatched only when necessary, generally when energy demand peaks. This is called "economic dispatch".
Demand for electricity from the world's various grids varies over the course of the day and from season to season. For the most part, variation in electric demand is met by varying the amount of electrical energy supplied from primary sources. Increasingly, however, operators are storing lower-cost energy produced at night, then releasing it to the grid during the peak periods of the day when it is more valuable. In areas where hydroelectric dams exist, release can be delayed until demand is greater; this form of storage is common and can make use of existing reservoirs. This is not storing "surplus" energy produced elsewhere, but the net effect is the same - although without the efficiency losses. Renewable supplies with variable production, like wind and solar power, tend to increase the net variation in electric load, increasing the opportunity for grid energy storage.
It may be more economical to find an alternative market for unused electricity, rather than try and store it. High Voltage Direct Current allows for transmission of electricity, losing only 3% per 1000 km.
The United States Department of Energy's International Energy Storage Database provides a free list of grid energy storage projects, many of which show funding sources and amounts.
The demand for electricity from consumers and industry is constantly changing, broadly within the following categories:
- Seasonal (during dark winters more electric lighting and heating is required, while in other climates hot weather boosts the requirement for air conditioning)
- Weekly (most industry closes at the weekend, lowering demand)
- Daily (such as the morning peak as offices open and air conditioners get switched on)
- Hourly (one method for estimating television viewing figures in the United Kingdom is to measure the power spikes during advertisement breaks or after programmes when viewers go to switch a kettle on )
- Transient (fluctuations due to individual's actions, differences in power transmission efficiency and other small factors that need to be accounted for)
There are currently three main methods for dealing with changing demand:
- Electrical devices generally having a working voltage range that they require, commonly 110–120 V or 220–240 V. Minor variations in load are automatically smoothed by slight variations in the voltage available across the system.
- Power plants can be run below their normal output, with the facility to increase the amount they generate almost instantaneously. This is termed 'spinning reserve'.
- Additional power plants can be brought online to provide a larger generating capacity. Typically, these would be combustion gas turbines, which can be started in a matter of minutes.
The problem with relying on these last two methods in particular is that they are expensive, because they leave expensive generating equipment unused much of the time, and because plants running below maximum output usually produce at less than their best efficiency. Grid energy storage is used to shift load from peak to off-peak hours. Power plants are able to run closer to their peak efficiency for much of the year.
Optimal supply-demand leveling strategies depend on the supply-demand mismatch: daily (diurnal) storage must be high efficiency, while seasonal storage would need very low storage costs.
Energy demand management
In order to keep the supply of electricity consistent and to deal with varying electrical loads it is necessary to decrease the difference between generation and demand. If this is done by changing loads it is referred to as demand side management (DSM). For decades, utilities have sold off-peak power to large consumers at lower rates, to encourage these users to shift their loads to off-peak hours, in the same way that telephone companies do with individual customers. Usually, these time-dependent prices are negotiated ahead of time. In an attempt to save more money, some utilities are experimenting with selling electricity at minute-by-minute spot prices, which allow those users with monitoring equipment to detect demand peaks as they happen, and shift demand to save both the user and the utility money. Demand side management can be manual or automatic and is not limited to large industrial customers. In residential and small business applications, for example, appliance control modules can reduce energy usage of water heaters, air conditioning units, refrigerators, and other devices during these periods by turning them off for some portion of the peak demand time or by reducing the power that they draw. Energy demand management includes more than reducing overall energy use or shifting loads to off-peak hours. A particularly effective method of energy demand management involves encouraging electric consumers to install more energy efficient equipment. For example, many utilities give rebates for the purchase of insulation, weatherstripping, and appliances and light bulbs that are energy efficient. Some utilities subsidize the purchase of geothermal heat pumps by their customers, to reduce electricity demand during the summer months by making air conditioning up to 70% more efficient, as well as to reduce the winter electricity demand compared to conventional air-sourced heat pumps or resistive heating. Companies with factories and large buildings can also install such products, but they can also buy energy efficient industrial equipment, like boilers, or use more efficient processes to produce products. Companies may get incentives like rebates or low interest loans from utilities or the government for the installation of energy efficient industrial equipment.
This is the area of greatest success for current energy storage technologies. Single-use and rechargeable batteries are ubiquitous, and provide power for devices with demands as varied as digital watches and cars. Advances in battery technology have generally been slow, however, with much of the advance in battery life that consumers see being attributable to efficient power management rather than increased storage capacity. Portable consumer electronics have benefited greatly from size and power reductions associated with Moore's law. Unfortunately, Moore's law does not apply to hauling people and freight; the underlying energy requirements for transportation remain much higher than for information and entertainment applications. Battery capacity has become an issue as pressure grows for alternatives to internal combustion engines in cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, and aeroplanes. These uses require far more energy density (the amount of energy stored in a given volume or weight) than current battery technology can deliver. Liquid hydrocarbon fuel (such as gasoline/petrol and diesel), as well as alcohols (methanol, ethanol, and butanol) and lipids (straight vegetable oil, biodiesel) have much higher energy densities.
There are synthetic pathways for using electricity to reduce carbon dioxide and water to liquid hydrocarbon or alcohol fuels. These pathways begin with electrolysis of water to generate hydrogen, and then reducing carbon dioxide with excess hydrogen in variations of the reverse water gas shift reaction. Non-fossil sources of carbon dioxide include fermentation plants and sewage treatment plants. Converting electrical energy to carbon-based liquid fuel has potential to provide portable energy storage usable by the large existing stock of motor vehicles and other engine-driven equipment, without the difficulties of dealing with hydrogen or another exotic energy carrier. These synthetic pathways may attract attention in connection with attempts to improve energy security in nations that rely on imported petroleum, but have or can develop large sources of renewable or nuclear electricity, as well as to deal with possible future declines in the amount of petroleum available to import.
Because the transport sector uses the energy from petroleum very inefficiently, replacing petroleum with electricity for mobile energy will not require very large investments over many years.
Virtually all devices that operate on electricity are adversely affected by the sudden removal of their power supply. Solutions such as UPS (uninterruptible power supplies) or backup generators are available, but these are expensive. Efficient methods of power storage would allow for devices to have a built-in backup for power cuts, and also reduce the impact of a failure in a generating station. Examples of this are currently available using fuel cells and flywheels.
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