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Technology Brings a More Flexible, Efficient Electrical Grid

The grid-scale electrical storage industry is growing quickly around the country. (Advanced Energy Economy)
The grid-scale electrical storage industry is growing quickly around the country. (Advanced Energy Economy)
March 21, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - Big battery systems and smart appliances are starting to bring rapid change to the electricity grid for 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, 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."

Supporters say grid-scale storage and smart technologies that manage demand are a more efficient way to operate an electrical grid.

Kiran Kumaraswamy, market development director for AES Storage, says they've installed battery storage for PJM, which manages the grid for Virginia and its neighbors. He says the batteries have reduced carbon emissions and saved money.

"In the PJM market, we estimate the energy storage fleet AES operates has saved about $20 million per year for PJM customers," says Kumaraswamy.

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 - VA