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Energy Storage (Utilities)

Plus and minus signs indicate the poles on the new energy storage facility at the Fraunhofer Institute in Magdeburg, Germany. During a full-scale test, the entire Fraunhofer research center was supplied with energy from the battery. The lithium-based storage system has an available capacity of 0.5 megawatts per hour and an output of one megawatt. The storage battery is housed in a 26-ton transportable container. This type of equipment is designed to stabilize intermittent and variable energy.

Utilities have long operated on the model of producing sufficient electricity to meet demand in real time. To supplement large coal, gas, or nuclear plants, they rev up highly polluting “peaker” plants as needed. Energy storage—daily, multiday, and longer-term or seasonal—is vital to reduce peaker emissions and accommodate the shift to variable renewables, namely wind and solar.

How does a utility store large amounts of electricity? One option is pumping water from lower reservoirs into higher ones, ideally 1,500 feet higher. The water is released back down into the lower reservoir as needed and runs through power-generating turbines. There are more than 200 pumped-storage systems in the world at present, accounting for 97 percent of global storage capacity.

Concentrated solar power plants are also at the forefront of energy storage, where molten salt is used to hold heat until it is needed to generate electricity. Then, there are batteries at scale. Dozens of start-ups and established companies are racing to create low-cost, low-toxicity, and safe batteries that will revolutionize energy storage, while some utilities are already installing banks of lithium-ion batteries to help meet peak demand.


first delivered electricity…San Francisco: Coleman, Charles M. P.G. and E. of California: The Centennial Story of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, 1852-1952. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952.

Germany…global record [for] renewable power: Shankleman, Jess. “Germany Just Got Almost All of Its Power From Renewable Energy.” Bloomberg. May 16, 2016.

U.S. renewables record…Texas: Fares, Robert. “Texas Sets New All-Time Wind Energy Record.” Scientific American. January 14, 2016.

General Electric [project]: Casey, Tina. “GE Forges Ahead With World’s First Wind + Hydro + Storage Project.” CleanTechnica. November 14, 2016.

pumped storage…capacity: Kempener, Ruud and Gustavo de Vivero. Renewables and Electricity Storage: A Technology Roadmap for REmap 2030. Abu Dhabi: International Renewable Energy Agency, 2015.

Nevada… storage by rail: Massey, Nathanael. “Energy Storage Hits the Rails out West.” Scientific American. March 25, 2014.

Molten salt: Biello, David. “How to Use Solar Energy at Night.” Scientific American. February 18, 2009.

lithium-ion batteries…Los Angeles: Fialka, John. “World’s Largest Storage Battery Will Power Los Angeles.” Scientific American. July 7, 2016.

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