Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Storage is the Smart Grid and Renewables Missing Link

... that's according to Rick Bush and Gene Wolf writing recently in Transmission and Distribution World, who note that electricity has characteristics that make it uniquely challenging to manage:
Electricity is the only commodity simultaneously produced and consumed. As such, it requires a very sophisticated real-time, just-in-time balancing act of supply and demand that is dependent on variable end-user demands and the continually changing weather system. Today's electrical grid operates effectively without storage, but it is severely challenged. The grid would be more efficient and reliable if it incorporated cost-effective ways of storing electrical energy.
Even more recently (as in, tonight at MIT) at the opening forum for a new X-Prize in Energy Storage, I gained some additional insight on electricity. Joining the X-Prize foundation's Chair/CEO Peter Diamandis were Internet and computer legend Bob Metcalfe, now of Polaris Ventures, and Hemant Taneja, the hyper-active energy-focused managing partner from VC firm General Catalyst. (All three of these guys it should be noted, are MIT alums. Secret of success must be time logged drinking and thinking at the Muddy Pub.)

Metcalfe likes to use the formation and development of the Internet as a model for the young Smart Grid he calls the Energy Internet, or Enernet (presentation here). Tonight he said something that clicked for me:
The early Internet was completely synchronized and had no storage.
Sometimes the comparison seems a little forced, but usually it's pretty effective. But this point really made the connection almost visceral. We'll see if the X-Prize carrot, on top of other R& D going on everywhere, can help propel the storage-less Smart Grid out of its infancy.

Wait: one more thing! A Energy Storage Summit is coming to DC next month sponsored by IQPC (thanks to Chris Boucher for the heads-up). Details here.
Photo: MIT

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