In a recent post, I highlighted the looming importance of grid energy storage as more intermittent renewables come on-line. A recent market report from Pike Research predicted this sector is set to explode by 1,100% in the next decade.
Much of the market focus has been on emerging battery technology, capable of storing megawatts of energy for a rainy or windless day.
Pike predicts that Lithium-ion batteries may emerge as one of the leading contenders to provide power during downtimes. This market is already rapidly expanding due to renewed interest in electric vehicles. L-ion batteries will likely replace nickel-metal hydride batteries currently used in the Toyota Prius because they are lighter and more powerful.
Hitachi has also just announced their fourth generation lithium ion battery with 1.5 times as much energy output and an impressive energy density of 4,500 watts per kilogram. This new technology will likely hit the market 2013. In the meantime, GM has ordered 100,000 third-generation battery packs from Hitachi for the Chevy Volt line coming on the market this fall.
A123Systems is another lithium-ion player. The company raised $69 million in April and signed a deal to supply electric-vehicle batteries to Chrysler. They are developing batteries with tiny phosphate particles at the cathode, which it claims makes them safer. The company also claims its batteries offer higher energy density; a longer lifespan; and the ability to recharge 90 percent in five minutes, a potentially useful trait for longer trips.
When not being used, the plug-in vehicles will not only draw energy from the grid, but also be able to supply energy to the grid from their batteries. Experts estimate that four cars would be able to power an average household for several hours.
In addition, utilities already pay billions for frequency regulation services to ensure that the supply of electricity matches the demand. A massive network of electric vehicles connected to the smart grid could be coordinated to smooth out the peaks and valleys in utility’s power use.
Google has already developed an algorithm to do just that. In the future, millions of plug in cars could supply massive amounts of collective storage to maximize renewable production, as well as balancing fluctuations in the grid. Grid stabilization is critically important to utilities and will become more challenging as more renewables come on-line.
"You can tell the power generators to power up or you can tell 250 cars to stop charging. It's exactly the same difference," said Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org.
"It could be that the car charges for two minutes and then goes off--whatever is most effective… This is just good software meets good hardware. This doesn't have to be rocket science, and we can do it without having to put the grid at risk or change a lot of things," he said.
According to David Mohler, the chief technology officer of Duke Energy, "I think PHEVs will be the killer application for the smart grid. They are able to both consume and provide energy like no other device can and can really change storage."
Other companies besides Google working on smart charging software include Gridpoint, that last fall raised $110 million in equity financing towards developing its smart grid software platform. They have raised more than $220 million in total and recently announced an update of their grid operating system.
While cars won’t make a big impact on grid energy storage for a while yet, it underlines the importance of the rapidly evolving lithium ion battery market. Merrill Lynch recently predicted this could reach a market cap of $60 billion by 2020.
Stay tuned for more news about batteries and grid storage.
Any opinion contained in this article is solely that of the writers, and does not necessarily shape or reflect the editorial opinions of Energy Boom. Energy Boom content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be advice regarding the investment merits of, or a recommendation regarding the purchase or sale of, any security identified on, or linked through, this site.