Will energy storage live up to the hype?

By Jennifer G. Gallegos, Director of Programs and Communications, Yotta Energy

In my previous article, I discussed several key factors that are likely to shape the energy storage industry. However, the precise effect of these factors remains to be seen. What happens if we juxtapose current events with other emerging technologies that are also being developed and refined today? Looking beyond five years, it’s easy to imagine that both existing and new renewable energy solutions need to be integrated with other emerging technologies or else they risk becoming irrelevant. In this article, I share my predictions about which trends I believe will become apparent over the next five years as a result of increasing global conflict, policy shifts, increased investment in cleantech and supply chain shortages.

Web 3.0 and convergent technologies

The overarching theme for successful renewable energy technologies to thrive is their ability to seamlessly integrate or converge with other emerging technologies in what is known as Web 3.0 or the Spatial Web. In the book “The spatial web”, Gabriel René and Dan Mapes argue that the Web 3.0 era will be defined “by an integrated ‘stack’ of computing technologies known in classical computer science as a three-level architecture composed of Interface, Logic, and Data Tiers.” René and Mapes further state that “Web 3.0 will simultaneously leverage spatial (AR, VR, MR), physical (IoT, Wearables, Robotics), cognitive (ML, AI) and distributed (Blockchain, Edge) computing technologies as part of a integrated stack.”

As can be seen in the picture, René and Mapes sketch the framework for Web 3.0noting the main differences from what is better known as Web 3. For example, a person can connect an energy IoT device (e.g. smart energy storage), view the manual with AR glasses, interact with it and analyze data through artificial intelligence and stores secure information (i.e. usage patterns) on the blockchain.

This convergence of the digital and physical worlds will create the next generation power grid. This convergence will further increase reliability as we can better analyse, predict and understand everything from demand-side usage patterns to supply-side congestion points. For example, when the grid becomes part of Web 3.0, it can seamlessly and semi-autonomously optimize the performance of energy storage systems. As a result, energy storage and renewable energy technologies will be necessary building blocks of the grid, not just nice-to-have technologies, especially as we continue to live with the severe natural disasters that affect our power supply.

Digital Twin

Digital twins, or virtual replicas of a physical product, have attracted the attention of companies and governments directly. For example, an energy storage device may have a digital replica of itself, complete with all its attributes, which is visible on a 2D screen or with augmented reality glasses on. A person can then remotely instruct a part of the energy storage device to repair or perform routine maintenance by manipulating the digital twin. A digital twin can also provide real-time data and analytics on how an energy storage system is performing in the real world. A person or algorithm can initiate a sequence to deploy energy storage if the grid needs additional energy sources during peak use.

Digital twin technology is rapidly being integrated into industrial and complex engineering applications, including technologies such as energy storage, wind turbines and solar energy. So we can expect the presence of digital twins to increase radically within the energy sector over the next five years.

Smart cities, smart companies, smart homes

Photo by Werner Slocum/NREL

As energy storage converges with other emerging technologies, we will see an increase in smart cities, businesses and homes. “Smart” means having the computing power to assess and understand data in real time, so that humans (or AI) can optimize the deployment of assets to save money, electricity and other resources. This not only means an intelligent thermostat that switches off your air conditioning in the summer when the load on the grid is too high. This also means applications with immediate and substantial benefits for consumers and businesses, such as predicting when to deploy energy storage so you can stay comfortable while saving money on your electricity bill.

We already see many technologies coming onto the market that optimize the efficiency of buildings. Emerging technology companies are deploying AI, IoT sensors and machine learning to improve air quality, HVAC efficiency, temperature, lighting and overall occupant comfort. Energy storage is a natural development to complement this mission to improve the performance of buildings and reduce CO2 emissions. In addition, recently there has been an increase in building regulations requiring sustainable technology. For example, California will require solar + storage systems for all new commercial and multi-family construction by 2023. As a result of these new technologies and the state mandate, we can expect a drastic increase in solar + storage systems and the smart building management systems necessary to deploy them as we continue to promote sustainability.

Distributed Energy Storage

Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), such as decentralized energy storage, can reduce the vulnerability of the power grid as it can deliver energy where it is needed without expensive infrastructure upgrades. David Roberts reported in a article for Canary Media, “[t]The more DERs you enter, the more centralized renewables you can put on the system. DERs are an accelerator for renewables.” Further, Roberts cited a clean energy DER scenario that is “$88 billion cheaper” than the status quo. As more DERs come online, grid demand begins to level off, which means a decrease in the large peaks in demand and a decrease in the number of peaker plants needed to keep the grid operational.In a recent Canary Media article, Jeff St. John writes noted that “rooftop solar, batteries, EV chargers, backup generators and flexible load” [are] expected to reach 400 gigawatts by 2025.” Connected DERs enable communities to better predict and understand where stored energy is available on the grid and how to deploy it in areas that need it.

Cradle-to-cradle energy storage solutions

Cradle-to-cradle energy storage technology will also become more widespread as we look for ways to fully utilize energy storage solutions at all stages of its life cycle.

The Cradle-to-Cradle trend raises important questions about the need to explore the entire energy storage supply chain, from design to manufacturing to logistics to end-of-life. This highlights the lack of regulation for battery production and recycling. As a few companies look at how we dispose, recycle and reuse energy storage components, more innovation is needed.

New energy storage technologies

Energy storage will need to go beyond batteries and lithium-ion chemistry to meet the required duration (ie days, weeks, months) and aggressive carbon reduction targets. Kinetic energy storage technologies are starting to hit the market. Other solutions, such as geothermal energy storage, are also starting to take off in the market, such as the recent announcement of a partnership between Fervo and Google

So, will energy storage live up to the hype? We still have work to do. We need to invest heavily in the intersection of energy storage and various emerging and convergent technologies, including Web 3.0 technologies, smart cities and building technologies, digital twins, DERs, cradle-to-cradle solutions and new storage technologies. But if we invest, research and develop in these critical areas, energy storage can live up to the hype.

Read part 1 here.

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