Before we can answer that, we must understand what it means to have a smart grid, and what all the talk about making a smart grid means. Our electric grid was created in the 1890s, when our country's demands were much smaller. Power generation was localized around often isolated communities. The grid has not changed at the rate of our electric use, and the current grid system is being pushed to its max. In today's system, there is limited communication between the energy provider and the user, a key feature to a smart grid.
In a smart grid system, communication via computerized equipment allows providers to more quickly understand when electric needs are at their maximum and minimum, which can make the grid more efficient. Rather than turn on additional generators during peak usage, for example, electricity plants can install batteries such as the ones created by Aquion a Western Pennsylvania-based energy storage company that creates sustainable, reliable and cost-effective batteries. Traditional batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when improperly disposed of, but Aquion’s contain no hazardous or toxic materials and are recyclable and landfill safe.
Grid operations have very little control over today’s system. Since the creation of the grid, electricity has been consumed the moment it was created, so the only goal has been to make sure enough power is being generated as it is needed. Power levels can deviate, which at their worst, cause blackouts like the Northeast Blackout of 2003, when an estimated 55 million people in Ontario and eight U.S. states were affected. Batteries allow providers to better align their supply with the demands presented to ensure a steady power output. Here are four additional ways energy storage can make a grid smarter:
Increased efficiency: During times of peak energy demand, grid operators currently turn on additional generation sources. This can be avoided by storing the energy not used upon production, and saving it for times of peak consumption.
Faster blackout recovery: With an energy storage unit in place, suppliers can use the stored surplus to account for any unexpected power failures until the generators are brought back online.
Flexible production time: Energy storage allows providers to produce their energy at night, when power is cheaper. This energy can be stored in batteries until peak hours when it is needed and more expensive to generate.
Green energy integration: Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar can be unpredictable and cannot be produced nonstop. Thus, the ability to store this energy while it is being produced allows a grid to make green energy a bigger part of its output.
By storing the energy produced during lull periods of energy consumption, utility providers can better account for changes in supply and demand, keep customers happy, incorporate renewable energy and efficiently distribute its resources.