If the past two weeks are any indication, energy storage technology advances will be a big topic this year for us green-tech and cleantech blogger types. Last week, many of you were interested in an item I posted about some ultracapacitor research being undertaken by Maxwell Technologies that could have applications in the mobile space and next week, I'm gearing up for a briefing about available battery technologies related to electric vehicles.
This week, I'm reading about a lithium ion-based energy storage grid in Johnson City, N.Y. The project, spearheaded by AES Energy Storage, is currently offering 8MW of electric capacity as a potential way to ease excess demand on the power grid. When phase 2 of the system becomes operational later in 2011, it will provide a total of up to 20 MW of reserve capacity. AES Energy Storage is working together with the New York Independent System Operator. A $17.1 million federal loan guarantee from the Department of Energy is helping to fund phase 2 of the project.
I recently spoke with Chris Shelton, the president of AES Energy Storage, about the opportunity in energy storage, and he says it is more diverse than one might think. It's not just about helping renewable energy systems more reliable, its about evening out the capacity in a given region, kind of like a massive uninterruptible power supply (UPS). "Power plants are not as fast as batteries," he says. "Even the fastest power plant could take up to a minute to respond."
Projects like this intrigue me, because I've often wondered why the electric grid can't act more like a distributed computing network -- with nodes of microgrids kicking in as appropriate or as necessary. Right now, as you know, everything has to be pushed out via transformers. One of the biggest challenges of any renewable energy project, aside from the intermittent nature of the fuel involved, is actually hooking that capacity into the traditional gridlines. I'm not an electric engineer, so I may be suggesting something that is technically impossible. Then again, as the IT community is well aware, there are many things that are not as technically impossible as they seem.
In any event, watching for more information about energy storage experiments such as these. AES Energy Storage itself already has 24 MW of similar capacity in operation, with another 100 MW in advanced development. Here's a complete list of the projects it talks about publicly.