Governments don’t create markets. It’s a fact — ask anyone.
But government funding can help bring early-stage technologies closer to commercial scale. That’s been the case with energy storage systems. In 2009, President Barack Obama and then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced $620 million in stimulus funding for 32 smart grid demonstrations. Approximately $185 million of that funding was for energy storage systems.
At Cleantech 2013, going on May 12 through 16 in Washington, D.C., Dr. Imre Gyuk, program manager for energy storage research with the U.S. Dept. of Energy, will chair a symposium dedicated to energy storage and novel generation. Presentations at the show will focus on many new technological developments, including projects funded by the above-mentioned stimulus package and other research funded by the DoE.
Recently, Gyuk took some time to speak with IMT Green & Clean Journal about the conference, energy storage technologies, and their role in a greener energy future.
One of the greatest challenges with the grid right now, according to Gyuk, is that the energy generation infrastructure is designed in anticipation of a brief period — usually in July — when there is the most demand and thus the greatest stress on the system. The rest of the year, he said, “The actual asset utilization is quite bad.”
The transition to renewable energy sources makes this design flaw even more prominent, as many of them — wind and sun being the prime examples — cannot always be relied on to produce during peak times.
“It is difficult to really do extensive clean technologies, particularly renewables, without having the buffer between all the variable resources,” Gyuk explained. “It used to be that we just had variable load, and adjusted generation to that. But now we have variation in generation and load, and neither is predictable in detail. Storage supplies the buffer in between and provides efficiency in dispatch.”
Before these problems can be solved, energy storage must develop as an industry, and there are a few key things that need to take place in order for that to happen. The first, Gyuk said, is acceptability. “The utility industry by its nature is conservative, and there is a certain barrier. The other thing is that we don’t have the regulatory structure yet.”
The final piece of the puzzle is deployment. The research being done at the DoE and elsewhere is allowing development of material science to evolve simultaneously with deployment. This, in turn, will stimulate development of regulations. Once that happens, the system will become self-sustaining. Gyuk said, “Regulators are not going to make rules about energy storage until they see deployment. Until we have deployment and regulatory structure, we don’t have an industry. If we don’t have an industry, researchers will lose interest.”
In addition to chairing a symposium at Cleantech 2013, Gyuk will also present one of several keynote presentations, in which he will outline many of the projects the DoE has or will soon complete at part of the 2009 stimulus package.
The projects include large wind projects, frequency regulation, and smaller MW sized projects. Large facilities are being constructed to provide ramping and peak shaving for wind energy. One in particular, a flow battery based in Modesto, CA, will replace a 50 MW gas turbine with 25 MW of energy storage as backup for 75 MW of wind power.
Smaller projects, he said, are designed “to get utilities used to working with storage and create a platform for new technologies to find deployment.”
Gyuk was excited to discuss two particular projects involving lead-carbon technology. This is a variation of lead acid batteries that includes a carbon electrode. “Even though it’s very similar to lead acid, the carbon electrode has the ability to vastly extend the cycle life,” Gyuk said. There are two applications within the stimulus package which he will speak to attendees about. One is a 500 kV-4 hour battery system combined with500 kW of PV (photovoltaic) solar field in New Mexico, which is running data on peak shaving, morning and evening usage, intermittency, etc. The other is a 3 MW installation in Pennsylvania for peak shaving and frequency regulations.
It’s no accident that the funding for energy storage was included in funding for smart grid technologies. “A smart grid with storage is a smarter grid,” Gyuk insisted. “We need to really make the system smart so that energy can go in and out, and provide buffering and communication.”
The Energy Storage and Novel Generation Symposium at Cleantech 2013 will kickoff with a keynote presentation discussing the spectrum of research that is now transitioning into commercial implementation. “This will include both emerging technologies, such as vanadium redox technology, and existing thermal storage using ice, and electrical storage that are becoming commercial,” Gyuk explained. Subsequent sessions will cover in detail the ongoing research in vanadium batteries, super-capacitors, lithium-ion batteries, air-air batteries, compressed air storage, flywheels, and more. The aim is to show attendees the efforts being made to make energy storage systems safer, more cost effective, and last longer.
While some may criticize the “all of the above” strategy that has been employed in clean technology research and implementation, Gyuk assured me that this is necessary to develop the energy storage industry.
He said, “In the storage field, we have a wide spectrum of applications. The different applications do not necessarily require the same solution. There are applications where footprint is important. There are applications where safety is paramount. Others need certainty in results and can’t tolerate failures. We want to bring a portfolio of technologies along and then let the market decide.”