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Energy Storage: The Real Deal?

May 3, 2017 By Molly White in

TAMPA, Florida—Fuel cells and microturbines were once hot ideas that the energy industry later cooled on. Today, energy storage is hot. But is it the real deal?

“Energy storage does have the potential to be a transformative technology,” said Bob Gibson, principal at Gibson Energy Insights and an NRECA consultant, who urged electric cooperatives to pay attention.

“It’s still in its infancy in terms of being deployed for utility use,” Gibson told an April 4 session at the Directors Conference at the Tampa Marriott Waterside. “So today is the time to really get to understand it.”

Focusing on battery energy storage, Gibson said batteries have real potential to “deliver electricity back to the grid when it is needed, where it is needed, and do a lot of things that are good for the grid, particularly with the rise of renewable energy—solar and wind.”

In fact, Gibson cited the boom in solar as one of the biggest drivers behind the growth of energy storage. In 2011, less than 1 gigawatt of solar was connected to the U.S. grid; last year it was more than 14 GW, and as prices keep falling, growth will continue, Gibson said.

Battery energy storage, on the other hand, is still pricey—at least for now.

“There are virtually no solar installers today that are going to push their customers to put a battery system in because all that does is make the sale price higher, and the chances of losing that sale greater,” Gibson explained.

However, “as solar becomes more and more cost competitive that leaves room for batteries to be added.”

Just 221 megawatts of storage was deployed in the U.S. last year, but by 2022 that’s projected to jump to 2.6 GW.

All of which begs the question of whether solar plus storage equals defection from the grid. Gibson urged directors not to shrug it off.

“I think this is a question we have to look at seriously,” he said, adding that there’s a tremendous opportunity here.

“Co-ops have the chance to ‘own’ energy storage, and use the technology in the most cost-effective ways to deliver value to members,” Gibson said.