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What Happens when the Wind Stops Blowing and the Sun Goes Down?

May 31, 2019

As we become more reliant on clean and renewable energy sources, such as hydro, solar, thermal and wind, new challenges are presented with the impact their intermittent flow has on the grid. The complex system that makes up the electricity grid requires supply and demand to be equal, and constant adjustments to the supply are needed to mirror anticipated and unexpected changes in demand. These changes in demand consist of conditions like our typical daily routines, storms, equipment overloads and increased usage from sudden extreme temperature changes.

Reliable energy storage is required to cover the times when the sun isn’t shining, and the wind isn’t blowing. Energy storage is an imperative piece of the delicate balancing act required to maintain the grid. Now, more than ever, the quest to create a more flexible and reliable grid is a challenge.

How is Energy Stored?

  • Batteries – Though batteries have been around for a quite some time, their technology has recently advanced due to the increasing use of electric vehicles. There are many types of batteries which have large-scale storage abilities, and they are excellent for storage because they can be located anywhere. Batteries increase the stability of the grid because they can be placed near consumers to provide power or near facilities, such as wind farms, for storage.
  • Compressed Air Energy Storage – This method improves upon efficient conventional gas turbines by compressing air during low demand times and storing it in underground caverns. When there is extra demand on the grid, air is pulled from the caverns and fired with natural gas in a combustion turbine to generate electricity. 
  • Flywheels – A flywheel is a cylinder-shaped device that contains a large rotor inside a vacuum. It spins at a very high speed, pulling electricity from the grid and storing it as rotational energy. It releases energy back to the grid by slowing the rotor and running on inertial energy.
  • Pumped Hydroelectric Storage– One of the oldest forms of energy storage is the pumping of water into higher elevation reservoir  or behind hydroelectric dams during low usage. Water then flows into the turbines, during periods of high demand, adding more capacity to the grid when needed.
  • Thermal Storage of the Sun’s Heat – This storage method uses power from the sun by capturing the heat and storing the energy in water, molten salts or other liquids. This can later be used to generate electricity, which enables the use of solar energy even when the sun isn’t shining.

What are the Benefits of Energy Storage?

Stored energy’s largest benefit is that it’s discharged to the grid rapidly as opposed to energy derived from fossil fuels, which take significantly more time. Quick response creates more stability for the grid during times of unexpected changes in demand.

Storage is also crucial the farther away a home or business is from the source of generation. There is a higher probability of disruption in electricity flow for those in rural areas versus in metropolitan areas, which is why storage facilities are necessary to ensure power stability for outlying areas.

Now What?

As renewable energy becomes more prevalent, there are several ways to take control of your energy efficiency and your own energy spend. Do-it-yourself home energy audits are a good start. Updating old appliances and installing smart thermostats help regulate unnecessary use of temperature control when you’re not at your home or business.

How Can I “Go Green”?

Ready to make the switch to renewable energy? AEP Energy offers renewable energy supply plans that match your electricity usage with national Green-e® certified wind Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) for your home or business. Visit our website or contact us at 1-866-258-3782 to learn more.1

Sources:
https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/how-energy-storage-works#bf-toc-0
https://www.energy.gov/oe/activities/technology-development/energy-storage

1For information on Green-e Energy, write to Green-e Energy, 1012 Torney Ave., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94129, or visit www.green-e.org.

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