Emerging Role Of Renewables And Energy Storage

Ramkumar Krishnan
CTO-Fluidic Energy
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Ramkumar Krishnan
The world is undergoing a monumental shift to sustainable renewable energy, evolving both in the developed world toward cleaner generation sources and the developing world to broad electrification efforts. Access to electricity and communication will bring significant benefits as a platform for economic growth in developing, rural regions. As costs continue to decrease for solar and wind generation, renewable deployments are increasing worldwide. Yet the inherent intermittency of renewables continues to challenge broader adoption, misaligns supply and demand and causes disruptions to current developed grid environments. Furthermore, in off-grid environments, renewables cannot provide a reliable 24/7 source of energy. Energy Storage provides the ability to capture renewable generation and smoothly deliver when and where needed. Long duration energy storage can solve the problem of solar and wind intermittency and provide reliable electricity without the use of diesel generators, eliminating harmful emissions and lowering costs. Despite a clear need for energy storage solutions to propel the use of renewables, there are several obstacles that need to be addressed.

Application Variability: The energy storage market needs to address numerous applications from short burst frequency regulation to the transportation sector to longer duration applications required by widespread renewable penetration. To date, most focus has been on shorter duration technologies such as Li-ion and Ultra capacitors. While these technologies are well suited for providing energy from a few seconds up to an hour, other technologies such as flow batteries and metal-air batteries are better suited for longer duration markets as power and energy can be decoupled providing a more optimal solution.

Energy Policy: Current regulation (and compensation) is grounded in the old system of polluting power plants-from the developed world where countries and U.S. states have been slow to adopt incentivizing legislation-to the developing world where countries are still progressing toward open markets for off grid Microgrids. However, in developing countries such as Indonesia, Madagascar, Kenya and Tanzania, there is a growing trend towards decentralization of energy and even governments are leading initiatives for alternate methods of energy generation and distribution.

Economic Disparity: In many parts of the developing world various factors including: the lack of cohesive legislation; inefficient and virtually bankrupt state owned utilities; and the subsequent problems with constructing bankable projects, make it very difficult to bring electricity to regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa where 625M+ people are living without access. Interestingly, ambitious people who live in these regions have started adopting alternate methods such as solar power, high efficiency DC appliances and are even disconnecting themselves from the grid due to frequent power outages and subsequent loss of revenue.

Performance, Theft and Reliability: Shortcomings of traditional battery technologies include negative environmental impacts, safety concerns, high theft, short lifespans and reliability issues, particularly when operating in challenging climates. In many Southeast Asian countries, river bed pollution due to lead based batteries are causing severe health problems. New storage technologies based on Sodium, Zinc and Iron can alleviate these problems and are already being deployed in many of these regions.

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