How much energy we need as a whole varies greatly on a daily basis. However, in order to make sure that we will always have enough to power our homes, public buildings and businesses, the electric suppliers in the US are required to produce at least the maximum amount of energy that we could use at any given time.
Unfortunately, this also means that we are wasting a whole lot of energy. At a time when the need for energy conservation is more urgent than ever—thanks to rapidly dwindling fossil fuel resources and the destructive pollution that their use causes—this is a very big problem.
Is anything being done about this?
Yes. There are, of course, major efforts underway to transition as much energy consumption as possible to unlimited renewable resources such as the sun. In order for these resources to work optimally, however, we still need to stop wasting energy.
Fortunately, something is being done about the energy waste as well; that something is energy storage.
What is energy storage?
Before it is sent out to power our buildings, the electricity that power stations generate is simply sitting there waiting to be used. If it ends up not getting used, it can be stored away for later use, much in the way an AA battery does.
This is known as energy storage, and all electric suppliers in the US use this capability to some degree.
How is it being used to reduce the amount of energy wasted?
Since energy storage devices can tuck unused energy away for later use, the excess energy that electric suppliers in the US produce that would have otherwise dissipated into nothing can be saved. This not only reduces energy waste, but also the amount of energy that has to be produced, since we can use the stored energy in lieu of producing additional megawatts of electricity.
If energy storage is so great, why are we still facing issues with energy waste?
The biggest problem that energy storage faces right now is technology. As of right now, most energy storage technologies are much more expensive to maintain than the energy itself, so it is not a viable solution for any electric suppliers in the US that are serious about reducing their customers’ bills.
This doesn’t prevent electric suppliers in the US from having some sort of energy storage system, but they are of very modest in scale. In 2013, only about 24 gigawatts of our 1,000 plus gigawatts of energy capacity was stored.
To put things in perspective, trying to productively use the amount of energy stored last year for our electricity needs would be like trying to fill up a bathtub with a shot glass full of water.
Where is energy storage headed?
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, we need to do whatever we can to reduce the amount of energy that we waste. Fortunately, technological developments in energy storage are making this a much more viable option to conserve energy resources and drive electric rates in the US down.
Thermal energy storage systems, for example, are being developed to convert heat energy (something that power plants create a lot of), which is normally completely wasted as it dissipates into nothing during the electricity generation and distribution process, into stored energy for later use.
A more recent advent that is poised to shake up the energy storage world is a new type of supercapacitor. Developed by a research team at Vanderbilt University, this gray wafer-like device could allow just about any type of material to be used as a storage facility for energy, thereby not only energizing the utility storage industry, but also others, such as the electronics industry as well.
How else will progress in energy storage affect the energy market?
As you might imagine, many electric suppliers in the US are none too pleased about a large scale expansion of energy storage. This is due to the fact that it will be highly disruptive to the energy market, because stored energy could be sold by third party stored electric suppliers in the US for much less than what a traditional energy supplier would charge.
This, combined with the threat of other rapidly developing alternative energy innovations such as home solar, is making the utility electric industry feel very threatened.