Home storage: are we ready yet?

Article published on Nov. 5, 2013
Article published on Nov. 5, 2013

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Energy transition requires a new organization for electrical grids. Developing renewables especially will be achieved through adapting infrastructure to clean energy’s distinctive features in terms of quantity, availability, reactivity. Until now, energy storage was the missing link in the energy shift process. But today, storage has become an issue for the whole energy sector.

Renewables for individuals

Energy transition is a process. The process of changing the global energy mix. Current generations will probably not see its end since many countries in the world are on their way to get their own brand new nuclear power plants. Such power plants are made to last nearly half a century and have obviously not been made obsolete by renewables yet. ”Renewable resources are mainly given by very fluctuating and uncontrollable sun-, water- and wind power. The generation patterns resulting from these renewable sources may have some similarities with the electricity demand patterns, but they are in general far from being equal”, Prof. Johann L. Hurink from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers explains in a study. As a matter of fact, electricity demand is growing and becoming more and more unpredictable. According to the IEEE, “A solution for these problems may be to transform domestic customers from static consumer into active participants in the production process. Consumers participation can be achieved due to the development of new (domestic) appliances with controllable load, micro generation and domestic energy storage of both heat and electricity”. The future of power network will therefore be written along that of home production and storage.

Renewables have barely started to be part of our everyday environment and lifestyle. Here and there, offshore or on shore wind farms appear for instance. But this kind of facilities are very much alike traditional power planter. They are centralized and massive.  The same goes for most photovoltaic systems. However, renewables facilities are more and more decentralized and set up on individual demand. Japanese firm Nidec bought the Italian Ansaldo Sistemi Industriali and now uses its expertise to sell high productivity wind turbine on the b to c market. American company Windtronics has plan to conquer the European market with its 2 meters high turbine that you can set up on the roof of a house. For individuals who are interested with theses power production solutions, the main issue is the cost. Compared to that of the grid, shifting to locally produced and renewable energy is not profitable in the very short term. But specialist are confident and foresee the development of the industry. According to Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of the offshore wind farms expert firm Masdar, “Solar PV module prices have fallen by 80 percent in the last five years and the price of wind turbines has fallen nearly 30 percent in that same timespan. Renewables are already at or near grid parity in some parts of the world. But to shrink the price gap between renewables and conventional energy we must continue to innovate and encourage long-term policies that create economies of scale”.

Home production and self-sufficiency

Director of Energy Storage at Forsee Power Solutions Gilles Ramzeyer agrees. “Energy storage has two main ends. First, large capacity storage for evening out power distribution on the grid.  Second, local and home storage to make it easier for individuals to use renewables”, he says. “Technology we work on is useful to individuals and firms for solving both kind of problems”. Home storage’s purpose is not to even out large facilities’ production but to help home production of renewable energy. Most of that renewable energy having unpredictable production cycles. Hence storing it is necessary to ensure a continuous supply. Depending on weather conditions, several days or weeks of storage capacity can be required. Besides, batteries are evolving fast and the performance too. “Battery systems designed by Forsee Power Solutions improve at a similar pace as the Moore’s laws for computing hardware”, Gilles Ramzeyer says. “Battery systems can be improved constantly in order to make it smaller, more efficient, or more autonomous according to a given bill of specifications”.

In the field of renewable, the interest for massive production facilities is of course limited because of their cost and exceptional need for energy storage. It is impossible to set up a hydroelectric dam next to every wind farm for instance. Hence smart grids, intelligent networks that can manage the production and storage capacity of millions of individuals, are more and more regarded as the future of the energy industry. “Another idea is to create a network of small, energy-dense batteries in tens of millions of homes”, National Geographic expert for environment Jon R. Luoma explains, “under such a “distributed storage” scheme, utility computers could coordinate electricity flows over a “smart grid” that continually communicates with — and adjusts the flow of power to and from — local batteries. This would even include batteries in future plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicles”.

All the sector’s representative now move toward the same scheme. In doing so, they might very well turn the grid into an actual network, enabling every consumers to be a producer and a manager of his own production and storage resources. This will of course requires new supervision tools that we probably do not even know yet. According to Electrical review, “The anticipated implementation of smart metering and real time pricing will serve as a major tool to help balance load versus demand in future distribution networks. With such market mechanisms in place, end users can play an active role in optimizing energy consumption. Energy storage enables them to do this without any reduction in their home comforts. […] Energy storage is a vital element in smarter grids”. The systems’ coherence and the future of the electrical grids will depend on our ability to consider home storage as a stake for a successful energy transition. Of course it implies that users will no longer be users only. They will be consumers, producers and managers in the heart of the grid. Their responsibility is very likely to grow bigger in that scheme. But it is probably the only way to make their energy bill shrink.