Incorporating storage technology into our energy initiatives is a game changer for renewable energy, positioning it as a cost-effective, reliable and sustainable solution to the world's energy needs.
Big change is on the horizon, led by batteries. We use them to operate our cellphones, computers, television remotes and kids' toys. Now it's time to think bigger. Imagine batteries that provide power for our entire homes, our businesses and stabilize our country's overall energy infrastructure.
It's already happening. Tesla Motors is building a Gigafactory in Nevada to mass-produce batteries that are cheaper and more efficient — not only for use in its electric vehicles, but for residential and commercial use as well. Boston-Power is building a rival factory in China to support the growing battery market there. AES Energy Storage is another major player focused on utility-scale battery storage, now expanding project development in the U.S. and Europe.
Energy storage is predicted to become a multibillion-dollar global market over the next five years and investors are pouring a lot of money into this segment, in big-name companies and start-ups alike.
The energy storage market is directly related to the rapid growth of the renewable energy sector, especially in wind and solar. Before the year 2000, the U.S. wind energy industry had less than 2,000 megawatts (MWs) of installed capacity and is now up to nearly 70,000 MWs cumulatively. That's enough electricity to power more than 18 million average homes annually. Solar PV had reached more than 18,000 MWs by the end of 2014, up 30 percent over 2013 with another 8,000 MWs forecast through this year. Most states now have a renewable portfolio standard, meaning that utilities must provide customers a set amount of generation from renewable sources. Minnesota is on track to meet its standard of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 and Hawaii just passed legislation to increase its standard to 100 percent by 2045, a goal made possible by integrating storage capabilities.
Globally, there is now more renewable energy capacity being installed each year compared to new fossil fuel plants, and there is no sign of this transition slowing down. The renewable energy segment had $270 billion invested into it worldwide in 2014 alone, according to a recent report by the United Nations.
European countries like Germany, Denmark and Spain have been longtime leaders of renewable energy, which continues to thrive as a result of the feed-in tariff energy policies, exits from power sources like nuclear and fossil fuels, and widespread support of a cleaner energy strategy.
Asian countries like China, India and Japan have also been implementing renewable energy at a rapid pace to meet the demands of their growing middle class and reduce adverse environmental impacts.
Many parts of Africa have seen a surge in wind and solar to help solve the regular power outages seen there and bring electricity to remote areas where it's previously been nonexistent or too expensive.
South America also is exploding in renewable energy installations in countries like Peru, Chile and Brazil.
In Central America, Costa Rica's 2.8 million citizens used power generated solely from renewable sources for the first 75 consecutive days of 2015 as part of a nationwide energy campaign. Mexico recently introduced energy reform that aims to generate 35 percent of the country's energy from renewable sources by 2024.
Other promising forms of storage technology include pumped-storage hydroelectricity and flywheel technology.
Pumped-storage is a process that could use wind energy during the off-peak nighttime hours to pump water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir. Once in the upper reservoir, it can be used to generate electricity from hydro generators during the high on-peak daytime hours.
Flywheel technology uses intermittent renewable resources to turn a series of wheels at accelerating speeds for ongoing periods of time. The wheels continue spinning until the power is needed and can then use that kinetic energy to power electric generators. Ireland recently started constructing a flywheel facility that will be capable of storing up to 20 MWs of energy and will help stabilize the usage needs across the entire country.
Renewable energy started off as a nice idea, something to do to become better stewards of the environment. It has evolved into a thriving, profitable global industry. It's also just common sense — the wind will always be blowing and the sun always shining to provide a free source of power.
The ability to store that energy means that we'll be able to transport power from point A to point B where it's needed, on or off the grid. We'll have uninterrupted power supply and avoid higher peak demand charges. Energy storage will also bring modernization to the energy infrastructure and add new levels of security and control. Renewable energy plus storage creates a reliable energy source that has the potential to charge the world.