The dream of being able to easily store energy for
later use in businesses and homes is approaching
reality. With the cost of battery energy storage
dropping faster than anticipated, the market is on
the verge of massive growth that could help make
humanity’s relationship to electrical power more
efficient and stable. By 2019, the U.S. energy storage market is expected to increase to US$1.5 billion, up from US$128 million in 2014.
As increasingly affordable battery projects enter
utilities’ portfolios, they’ll need practitioners who
can overcome their challenges on the fly.
Next-generation lithium ion batteries, such
as those unveiled by Tesla Motors in April for
consumers and utility companies, can be charged
with power from traditional or renewable energy
sources. The stored energy can be used when
electricity costs are highest (to save money), when
there’s a strain on traditional grid networks or during blackouts. By decreasing the chance of outages
during peak demand periods and obviating the
need to build additional transmission and distribution networks, utilities benefit.
“It’s such flexible technology,” says Nick
Heyward, project director, UK Power Net-
works, London, England. He is managing the
utility’s £ 18. 7 million Smarter Network Stor-
age project, Europe’s largest battery energy
storage project to date. “The basic ability to
shift energy from periods when it’s not helpful
to when there are constraints, congestion and
high demand is very useful.”
Utility-scale battery projects could particu-
larly benefit places like Hawaii, USA, which
generates a significant amount of energy
from solar, but has nowhere to put its excess
energy. That energy often gets dumped back on
infrastructure not equipped for it, causing over-
loaded circuits, burned lines and blackouts.
Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 600 million
people lack access to electricity, also stands to benefit
from battery projects. Even in areas with widespread
power grids, such as Nigeria, Ghana and South
Africa, electricity from utilities is often unreliable.
Africa has the highest reserves of renewable
energy sources, meaning that, in theory, batteries
could provide millions with first-time access to
electricity and allow others to unplug from unreliable utility companies. The dynamic is analogous
to how the arrival of inexpensive mobile phones
allowed some Africans to “leapfrog” landlines.
While the cost of energy storage remains out of
reach for many consumers—Tesla’s home battery
runs as much as US$3,500 for 10 kilowatt-hours of
storage—utilities are moving ahead with projects
that promise big benefits. And project managers are
learning how to handle first-of-their-kind initiatives.
“The process and bidding for funding was unlike
anything else I’ve experienced,” Mr. Heyward says.
“We had intense deadlines. There was a lot of
detail covering budgets, resourcing plans, timeline
and milestones, and technical design—all within
about a six-month period. It was tough, I’m not
going to lie.”
UK Power Networks’ Smarter Network Stor-
age project launched in January 2013 with a con-
sortium of tech companies. When complete in
December 2016, it could save UK Power Networks
and its customers as much as £ 6 million on tradi-
tional grid reinforcements.
An energy storage project in California, USA
brought different challenges. In 2013, the state
mandated that utilities create approximately
1,300 megawatts of energy storage (excluding
pumped hydro storage projects) by 2020. To
comply with the new regulation, in September
By 2019, the U.S.
market is expected
to increase to
billion, up from