Maybe it's not an ordinary day. Maybe a tree falls on a power line or lightning strikes it. These disruptions will knock the line's voltage off of the intended amount. Voltage variations reset computers. Now your alarm clock is blinking 12:00. Or worse: "For all automated manufacturing processes, if the computer resets, it shuts down the process. If you're a plastics manufacturer, and your machines cool down, plastic solidifies in your machines," says Boyes.
And what if a day's events exceed utilities' efforts to compensate? Yes, you guessed it -- you're facing a blackout. It certainly happened across the Northeast in 2003.
With the grid already scrambling, it's hard to imagine adding more renewables, like wind and solar power, because they are intermittent sources of power. We know customers are unpredictable, but now, so is the electricity. When the wind dies unexpectedly, a wind farm can lose 1,000 megawatts in minutes and must then quickly buy and import electricity for its customers.
The alternative then is to use a peaker-style fossil-fuel plant, but that adds air pollution to clean electricity. Or nature can reign. On wind farms in Texas, the wind blows almost exclusively at night while demand is low, and the price of electricity becomes negative. "That means you have to pay the grid to put electricity on it," says Gyuk. "I talked to someone who runs his air conditioning all night to chill the house because he gets it for free. Then he shuts the windows."
According to Gyuk, these problems will worsen as we use more electronics and more electricity. So what could be the answer to these problems? Grid energy storage.
Before we dive into the topic, it's important to understand what it means to store energy. The job of the grid is to deliver electricity to every customer at 120 volts and 60 hertz. This is accomplished by adding or removing current from the grid. A storage device helps by adding or removing current exactly when needed.
Read on to learn how energy storage can strengthen the grid.