Cast your mind back to science class. Specifically, recall the class in which you learned about potential and kinetic energy. In a memorable experiment from our youths, teachers used rubber bands to illuminate the concepts. A rubber band pulled carefully taut against a pencil contains potential energy. That rubber band flying through the air? It’s now showing its kinetic energy.
We admit: the energy of the electrical grid is substantially more complex than that of a rubber band. Still, it’s good to have the concepts of potential and kinetic energy in mind as we consider the ways in which batteries are affecting the world of contemporary energy.
Energy usage is, by its nature, ever-changing. Sometimes we’re holed up baking cookies, watching Netflix, and cranking the heat while we research sunny vacations online; sometimes we’re reading a book by the window in the middle of a bright summer afternoon. Energy producers and providers, therefore, are obliged to have flexibility built in to their plans. Of course, smart energy producers and providers will have plenty of kinetic energy on hand, i.e. the flowing, active form of energy, but they’ll also have a store of potential energy at the ready.
Scientists and engineers have come up with a few solutions to help energy producers store energy, and one of those solutions is: batteries. While batteries have been used to store energy since the beginning of the modern electrical age, their popularity has surged over the past few years. (Yes, that pun was intended.) Since 2015, 700 megawatts of new batteries have been installed on the United States electrical grid, with an additional 69 megawatts planned for 2018.
Reliable, efficient batteries, serve a number of different uses for energy producers, energy providers, and energy consumers.
Batteries enable energy producers to make energy when it makes the most sense, regardless of consumer demand. Then they can store that energy until users need it.
With batteries, energy providers can buy energy from a variety of producers when it’s most economically logical, and then store that energy (again) until users need it. This sort of battery storage also enables traditional energy providers to buy and store greener energy options, like that generated by wind or the sun.
Batteries can also serve as short-term, back-up energy in the event of an emergency. In Texas, for example, commercial facilities are partnering with energy providers to create something called microgrids. These microgrids make and store energy (in batteries!) that is then connected to the state’s larger electrical grid in the event of mainline power outages.
Without batteries, we energy consumers would have far less reliable energy and it would cost far more.