In a fast-developing industry teeming with technologies that promise to be the next big thing, energy storage appears to be the biggest.
Its supporters not only sing its praises but also tout what they say is its inevitability.
“We’re going to have 10 times as much energy storage on the grid by the end of this decade and that is going to impact every facet of the energy industry,” said Matt Roberts, executive director of the Energy Storage Association, an industry trade group.
But the electrical grid is a harsh taskmaster.
As far back as the 1880s, Thomas Edison wrestled with a way to effectively take surplus energy, save it and then use it at a later date.
It’s not enough to just store energy — system operators have to find a way to balance supply and demand instantaneously, generating every kilowatt that is demanded by customers who expect their lighting/heating/air conditioning to come on the moment they flip a switch.
“There’s a whole bunch of different, new storage technologies, but we get ones that seem to be cheaper but they fail on the density problem,” said Stephen Brick, senior fellow on climate and energy for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “We get ones that seem to improve on the energy density and they fail on the cost side.”