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The future of renewables is bright with energy storage

By Robert Morgan

In the last 18 months, grid-connected energy storage technologies have moved from a nascent to booming market with storage deployments in the U.S. expected to grow 250 percent in 2015. Over the past 10 years, electricity volume delivered to the grid from renewable resources has clearly surpassed expectations, and we expect renewable demand to continue to grow over the next decade and beyond, even without subsidies. Ultimately, renewable energy and energy storage will become a mainstay of the electricity grid.

Consumer demand for renewables, coupled with decentralization of energy generation, is leading to both challenges and opportunities for utilities and grid operators. Energy storage is a flexible technology that can provide real solutions to these challenges while allowing for greater penetration of both large and disaggregated renewable generation.

It is well established that energy storage is diverse in its technical nature and in the services it can provide. Storage solutions bridge applications from stabilizing the largest regional transmission organization in the country, to islanding microgrids for outage support, to supplying backup power in commercial buildings and residential homes.

Energy storage will enable traditional distribution utilities to unlock multiple value streams from their systems. They can strengthen distribution circuits, manage frequency and voltage disruptions, defer more expensive distribution upgrades, and offer customers choices without disrupting reliability.

Grid operators can leverage energy storage as a tool to manage fluctuations inherent in a grid. Changes in load cause fluctuations in frequency or voltage just like changes in generation do. Storage helps to bridge any gaps and is particularly well-suited for fast response over short- to medium-term durations (milliseconds up to about four hours).

As energy storage technologies expand market presence and gain increased scale in manufacturing, prices will come down, and new technologies will move from lab to commercial scale, including the advent of hybrid solutions, like solar photovoltaic (PV) married with storage. The modern grid is becoming increasingly complex, and we can address the complexity with hybridized distributed energy solutions that expand renewable energy and take advantage of energy storage technologies.

Capturing the full value of a single energy storage system that can provide multiple services, in addition to renewable integration, will require advanced communications, controls, and oversight. A fleet of storage and renewable assets will operate both independently as well as aggregated to provide system-wide benefits. The energy management system of the future will be multi-purpose. It will have the real-time ability to act independently and address needs at the point of interconnection and the oversight and predictive ability to aggregate and provide benefits across the supply system.

The integration of renewable energy at all levels of the supply system will lead to a cleaner and more reliable U.S. grid. With aggregation and control of unpredictable resources comes certainty. With decentralization comes security. The current transmission infrastructure will still be used to transmit energy across large distances, but support will be provided by energy storage and renewables balancing deviations between supply and consumption and maintaining power quality.

Energy storage, renewables, and the grid will rapidly evolve together. The grid's changes and proliferation of renewables necessitate storage, and the progression of storage technologies depends on the needs of the grid and the eligibility for storage to meet those needs. Leaders in the industry will understand the technologies, the system and its operators, and the requisite regulatory changes that will maximize the value of energy storage to developers, operators, and energy consumers.

Successful companies will be those integrators that can work with grid operators and market participants to focus on reliable, cost-effective delivery of electricity and energy services to customers. Single-minded technology providers remind us of the old adage-"give a child a hammer, and the whole world becomes a nail."

In the end, a robust electricity system is about giving customers a reliable, cost-effective supply with choices about how they participate in that electricity system.

Hybrid solutions that couple energy storage solutions with renewable power offer more options to deliver reliable electricity while giving customers choices that they desire. The future of renewables is bright when energy storage is used to supplement the grid.

Robert Morgan is chief strategy officer at Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Americas, a leading development, engineering, construction, and operations firm working in the renewable energy, energy storage, demand side management, and transmission markets.