Image courtesy Jule

Empowering Electrification — Overcoming Grid Limitations with Battery Solutions

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The electricity grid has been pieced together for more than 100 years. You don’t get a full upgrade every few years or even every several years like you do with most products. “The grid” (which is actually multiple grids) includes power plants that are decades old, brand new power plants, wires and substations of various ages, etc. This patchwork nature of the grid sometimes makes it fragile and faulty. Also, relying heavily on large thermal power plants ramping up when there is increasing electricity use, there can be significant challenges or even brownouts and blackouts if there are surges in sudden electricity demand. Natural gas peaker power plants have been a common solution for daily or weekly surges in electricity demand, but battery energy storage systems are increasingly popular since they offer a nearly immediate and increasingly affordable solution for growing electricity demand.

“Electrify Everything” is the biggest cleantech call to action in the world these days. I remember when it was a new and just slightly used phrase. I thought it was catchy, but I didn’t expect it to become the predominant climate call to action. However, this is absolutely what is needed. Yes, the big shiny object is our vehicle — we need to electrify cars and trucks ASAP. But we also need to electrify heating in places where it’s not electric (using efficient heat pumps), we need to electrify cooking (with efficient and better-cooking induction stoves), we need to electrify water heating, and we need to electrify much more. We need to electrify everything in order to reduce CO2 emissions enough to avoid climate collapse.

“Electrifying everything” means using a lot more electricity. It means that we need to manage electric consumption much more intelligently. In order to manage supply and demand more intelligently, it means we need to store a lot more electricity so that we can redistribute electricity at any time. When electricity is being over-generated (which happens more and more from solar power on advanced grids), we need to be sure to store it for times when consumption/demand is higher than supply. This is important on the grid level and it’s increasingly popular on the home level, but more businesses should look into the benefits of energy storage systems as well.* 

Gradually electrifying appliances and HVAC systems is one challenge, but electrifying most or all of the vehicles on the road will bring another level of need. It brings potential instability to the grid. The more electric vehicles we have, the more fast charging we have — and fast charging means massive, sudden pull on electricity supply. Instead of adding a 7 kW load for one more EV, we’re talking an additional 150 kW, 250 kW, or perhaps even 500 kW load. Waiting 15–30 minutes for a natural gas peaker plant to warm up in order to supply several megawatts — or even gigawatts — of surging electricity demand won’t cut it. That’s where the unmatched rapid response of battery energy storage systems comes in and saves the day. That responsiveness helps to patch up the grid and is key to reliable service as the grid grows and evolves.

Image courtesy Jule

The grid can only handle a 100% EV fleet if it has the flexibility and electricity storage to be able to do so. Batteries can respond immediately to the need for more electricity, doing much better at that than natural gas or coal power plants could ever dream of doing. If it’s a time of peak electricity demand on a weekday evening and most people are plugging in their electric cars and trucks and turning on their induction stoves and TVs, the grid needs to be sure it will have the electricity supply, but it also needs to be sure to have the flexibility required if a lot of commuters and travelers decide they need to stop for a high-power rapid charge. That’s where more stationary energy storage, and especially energy storage systems integrated into EV charging stations, is critical. Nothing else can fully do the job. Utilities are already starting to incentivize integrated energy storage systems at retail hubs, at office parks, at commercial and industrial locales where surges in electricity demand could cripple the grid. Find out how battery storage can benefit your business.

In fact, aside from helping to meet growing electricity demand, integrating battery storage systems into the EV fast charging stations themselves can prevent the need for super expensive utility infrastructure upgrades. Adding more power plants, substations, and electricity wires is massively expensive. Battery storage systems cut utility costs and can also save charging station companies (and consumers) a boatload of money by putting the solution right next to the core growing pressure points.

Whereas the grid of the 20th century was all about generation capacity and big baseload power plants, the grid of the 21st century is all about flexibility. And while electric vehicles can offer some storage via vehicle-to-load, vehicle-to-home, or vehicle-to-grid tech, they can’t beat the extreme flexibility of stationary energy storage batteries. Stationary energy storage is the glue that holds everything together. Stationary energy storage systems are essential to integrating those 20th century baseload power plants with millions of distributed solar and wind power plants, and integrating all of those power generators with the large variety of consumer products that need electricity.

One of the most challenging aspects of the new energy era is growing electricity generation from storing energy in the middle of the day, already leading to some of that electricity being “dumped” or wasted in some regions. This is leading to what has been coined the “duck curve,” where production outpaces demand in the sunnier hours of the day. Smart energy storage makes it possible (and easy) to shift that electricity a few hours later to a time of peak consumer demand.

Lastly, note that a key to widespread EV adoption is installing a lot more EV fast chargers — a lot more. We are below 10% EV market share of new vehicle sales in the United States, and EV market share of the total automobile fleet on the grid is minuscule. EV share of the overall fleet is just around 1%! We need to rapidly rise up the technology adoption S-curve and get to 20%, 30%, 50%, 70%, 90% EV market share of new vehicle sales, but even when we reach those higher targets, the EV portion of vehicles on the road will be far behind and will take decades to approach 90% share. To go from ~1% to full electrification will require thousands upon thousands of additional EV fast chargers. Since EV fast chargers pull a large amount of power quickly and that kind of thing can put stress on the grid and risk brownouts and blackouts, that also means we will need thousands upon thousands of additional energy storage systems for those fast charging stations and for the grid as a whole. In order to avoid too much power draw from the grid and extremely costly peak power charges, it’s clear: EV fast chargers and other businesses need to integrate more into their operations. Be ahead of the curve — look into how battery storage can benefit your business today.

*This article is sponsored by Jule.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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