It no longer is big news that solar panels and wind turbines are generating energy for homeowners, business and municipalities. Just last month, for example, a Fayette County wind farm began supplying the District of Columbia with its entire output.
But when it comes to the ability to gather, store and distribute that power for use when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, the market for large-scale energy storage has lagged.
“It’s the holy grail,” said Art Sasse, director of communications and brand for Iberdrola Renewables, the Portland, Ore.-based developer of the Chestnut Ridge Wind Power Project near Uniontown that inked the deal with D.C.
Due to the demand for batteries to help integrate solar and wind, analysts believe such technology is poised to boom, which could boost some Western Pennsylvania companies working on such projects.
The splashiest headlines belong to Tesla, whose chairman and CEO Elon Musk launched a new energy storage business in May and unveiled an initial suite of residential batteries priced at $7,140, including equipment and installation, for a 10-kilowatt-hour system.
A host of other companies also are carving out niches in a market that is expanding but has struggled to gain widespread interest from utilities. The U.S. storage industry installed 41 megawatts of capacity from April to June this year — nine times the capacity installed during the year-ago quarter and the most since the fourth-quarter 2012, according to a report from GTM Research, a firm studying trends in green technology.
In its most recent round of funding, Virginia battery developer Greensmith Energy Management Systems received $5 million from American Electric Power, a coal-heavy electric utility based in Columbus, Ohio serving customers in 11 states.
Storage has always been a useful tool in a utility’s management of the power grid to keep prices steady for ratepayers, said Bob Powers, AEP executive vice president and chief operating officer. Batteries, he said, are principally no different than water built up next to a hydroelectric dam or natural gas storage fields underground.
Mr. Powers said he sees the small commercial and residential markets being the first to benefit from battery scale-up. In an extreme example, he said, AEP’s Texas subsidiaryhelped develop a 4-megawatt storage battery to serve customers in Presidio, Texas, who experienced chronic power outages because a single, 60-mile transmission line extended to their town.
“What that does is provides a great deal of flexibility in terms of protecting the customers from price spikes,” as well as outages, Mr. Powers said. “What’s far off is the coupling of large batteries with power plants. What’s not so far off is helping the individual customer manage their energy needs.”