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Changes Coming to Electrical Grid

The market for smart technologies that 'talk' to the grid to manage electrical demand is growing rapidly. (Advanced Energy Economy)
The market for smart technologies that 'talk' to the grid to manage electrical demand is growing rapidly. (Advanced Energy Economy)
March 21, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Big battery systems and smart appliances are starting to bring rapid change to the electricity grid for West Virginia and the rest of the U.S.

The price of grid-scale batteries has fallen dramatically and as a result, the amount of installed, grid-scale electricity storage doubled last year.

There's been similar growth for smart technologies, which 'talk' to the grid and can manage electrical demand on a split-second basis.

Ravi Manghani, senior energy storage analyst for GTM Research, says these are cheap ways to add flexibility and put off building expensive power plants.

He says they're starting small, but growing fast.

"Storage is still a very, very tiny portion of the market," says Manghani. "But what is interesting is the rate at which the deployments are growing, the rate at which a lot of different states and the regional markets are paying attention to it."

According to one analysis, 40 percent of the home thermostats sold last year were made to connect to the grid and manage energy demand.

Rick Counihan is head of energy regulations and government affairs for Nest Labs in Palo Alto, one of the biggest makers of smart thermostats. He says the company, founded in 2010, has grown explosively.

"We are a company that didn't exist a while back and now, we have 1,300 employees," says Counihan. "So, instead of talking about 10 percent growth rates, we talk about doubling every year."

Batteries installed on the PJM grid are already reportedly saving consumers in West Virginia and neighboring states millions of dollars a year.

Manghani explains batteries like that became cost-effective because of the number of battery factories built to supply electric cars.

"Although the electric vehicles market has grown, it hasn't grown to the extent where all that capacity can be made use of, and as a result of which, battery costs have come down," says Manghani.

Critics of advanced-energy technologies, such as renewables, argue the new technologies are being oversold.

But Manghani says storage and smart load management make sense, no matter what the power source.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV