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Interview: Pumped Water Key to Energy Storage

Dick DeBlasio is a senior life member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and is the principal laboratory program manager for electricity programs at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which include electric distribution and interconnection research and development, thermal systems integration, thermal storage systems, and high temperature super-conductivity programs in support of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.
We asked him for his assessment of the current state of energy storage.
CleanTechies:  How important is energy storage?
DeBlasio:  The storage area is critical to the future grid. And there’s two areas that we need to look at relative to the grid: one is energy management – how do we manage the system and how do we manage the power flow?  Power flow is critical in managing. And that’s really where the smart grid comes in, managing the flow. Electricity goes where it wants to go. How we optimize utilization of it and use it properly and efficiently is critical as well as it gives us opportunities, such as energy selection and choice.
The other thing is storage.  Especially with renewables, it will allow the ability to utilize on and off resource availability, such as wind or solar.  As far as voltage support on the grid, as far as the distribution feeders or the transmission lines, it’s a matter of economics. Is it worth the investment?  Do we really need to do storage based on resource allocations and power flow controls?   It’s really how you present it and how you see the economics. So I would say storage is very important in how it’s applied and whether it’s cost-effective is obviously up for grabs.
CleanTechies:  What’s the near-term future?
DeBlasio:   I think storage has been very dormant. Not enough money’s been invested in it and (U.S. Secretary of Energy) Stephen Chu is looking at putting initiatives to do research in storage. Basically, the (storage format) that makes the most sense is pumped water storage because it’s available and natural and very, very easy to control if you design it properly, where you pump water during the day and then use it at night to turn the turbine.
The critical area of storage right now is the electric vehicle. We need to develop a battery technology. As far as static storage or large storage plants, the economies could be good, depending on where you do it.  Los Angeles is a good example, or New York city would be even better, where you have voltage droop, where the computers are just overloaded at certain times of the year. Just for a matter of 15 seconds or a couple of minutes, and if you were to have storage available to help boost that voltage on the line or provide the energy for 5 to 15 seconds, or whatever, the economics pay off because of the cost of energy at that time. It’s all price of timing. There’s all these gimmicks on making it justifiable
CleanTechies: What’s the impact of electric vehicles going to be?
DeBlasio:   I think the electric vehicle is a great idea and I’m an advocate of it. There are some technological issues relative to storage and the batteries and the management of the energy system on the vehicle and its interface with the electric power system, the grid. I’m heavily involved with the standards development for interconnection of these devices to the grid for two-way power flow and command communications.
They say there’s over a million cars out there that are electric vehicles. They’re probably one-way flow – they charge the batteries and use them and plug them in later and charge the batteries. The future, as far as I’m concerned, is your electric power system on the vehicle has a two-way control, it meets IEEE 1547, a standard that we developed for two-way power flow and power quality and safety. I think that’s the future and they’re developing these. The batteries on board are mobile distributed generators that can actually sell power back if not using it at times at home or in the evening. It’s all a matter of the smart grid – how can we control and monitor and then do the optimization/utilization of the power or sources available. And I think I’m optimistic.
CleanTechies: How will the utility industry be affected when people start selling back to the grid?
DeBlasio: I think it will make them more efficient. And probably more engaged with the customer, versus it’s a one-way street where everything is sent to the customer, they use it and then they pay for it. This way, with the future, there might be this bartering, bargaining, all done through electronic means and providing cheaper electricity or efficient clean energy.
photo: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!


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