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Is Distributed Thermal Storage Next?

Here’s one electricity storage technology that’s been around for over 20 years, under the radar, but might be due for a resurgence in interest with the addition of more wind power to the grid.  Wind tends to blow at night when we don’t need it.


Steffes Electric Thermal Storage makes devices that store excess off-peak renewable electricity very simply, as heat, by heating up electric coils surrounded by ceramic bricks in a sealed container. The ceramic bricks are thermal sinks. They soak up the heat slowly, and when triggered to, can release that heat, just as slowly, providing low-cost heating.

Excess electricity generated can be stored at any time, like at night from excess wind power, and then released at any time it’s needed; on demand, in the form of heat.

Because it is useful for businesses and homeowners, it is distributed energy storage.

Replace oil heating

Homeowners in states like Maine, that mostly use oil for heating, could become virtually energy independent with electric thermal heat storage in conjunction with wind energy to compete directly with oil.

With residential wind turbines

In all of the windy Plains states from the Dakotas to Wyoming and Oklahoma, rural homeowners could store their own excess wind power, which is typically generated at night, in electric thermal storage in their home. Then, when needed, that captured heat can be released to warm the home all day. Whether the night wind comes from a utility, or their yard, wind is the perfect partner. It blows when we don’t need it, and the windy states need to use more energy for heating.

With utility-scale wind on the grid

Distributed storage is also good for utility-scale wind farms. This pairing of distributed thermal storage meets a need for stability on both sides: on the one side, the homeowner wants some guarantee of a low electricity rate before adding electric thermal storage – and on the other side utilities generating wind power want some guarantee that there are entities ready to use its energy when its generated (which for wind is when people are sleeping).

With energy-saver incentives

Many utilities already give out or provide discounts on energy-saving devices to encourage energy conservation, to help meet their Renewable Energy Standards (RES) that require them to add more renewable energy. As they add more renewable energy, they need to add more renewable energy storage.

With more wind power on the grid

Distributed storage (in homes) for off-peak electricity might be more cost-effective and easier to implement than centralized storage. Rebates like those for fluorescent light bulbs, could incentivize  homeowners to add electric thermal storage.

With Renewable Energy Standards

In each state with RES requirements that utilities add more renewable generation; homeowners could be also encouraged with incentives to use distributed thermal electricity storage to help use excess wind energy at night.

Related stories:

California Proposes First Renewable Energy Storage Requirements

Make Ice at Night to Store Wind Energy

Wind Storage Worth Trillions

For Baseload Wind Cheaper than Fossil Fuels

Storing Renewable Energy in Boxes of Air

Top ARPA-E Funding Goes to Renewable Storage in “Liquid Battery”

Metal-Air Battery With 11 Times the Energy at Half the Cost?

Pump Hydro Underground to Store Wind Power

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