Energy Storage is Creating a Brighter Future for the Energy Poverty Poplulation

CITE AS:

Quentin Gipson, "Energy Storage is Creating a Brighter Future for the Energy Poverty Population", Housing Energy Research Network, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, (June 12, 2020).

RESEARCH Questions

What is energy storage and why do
we need it?
How can energy storage benefit
all populations,
but mainly vulnerable populations?
How is energy storage currently being
utilized?
What are the pros and cons of energy
storage?
What is the future of energy storage?

Introduction

In theory, most of us in the world are energy vulnerable because we only have a few options of how we are able to get our power. Most countries have limited power companies, which act as monopolies, and you don’t really have a choice of energy options. For a while now, alternative energy has been something that has been explored but is not in wide usage. People know there are options such as solar power, wind power, water power, battery power, etc. but aren’t sure how to go about beginning the process of converting to these methods. We are currently relying on fossil fuels and renewable energy, such as coal, diesel and natural gas, but we have already seen the long term effects of this usage and it’s time to think about the future. The grid is vulnerable, this we know. The main reasons for vulnerabilities include complexity of the energy systems, inflexibility, dangerous use of fuels, and difficulty of repair. To me, vulnerability means being disadvantaged, exposed or unable to make decisions. That is why I believe that most of us are energy vulnerable currently, especially during times of pandemic, because there are limited options and we have to take what we can get. Of course there are more vulnerable populations than others, and people with low incomes can’t necessarily afford solar panels or battery packs or generators, but the costs currently are still a lot for most of the population.

 

Energy storage allows us to store energy produced by solar and wind power, which is dependent upon the weather.  For people more interested in clean energy, being able to store that energy is a great option so that they can use it on a cloudy or rainy day. Energy storage can also contribute to meeting electricity demand during peak times, such as on hot summer days when air conditioners are blasting or at nightfall when households turn on their lights and electronics. Electricity becomes more expensive during peak times as power plants have to ramp up production in order to accommodate the increased energy usage. Energy storage allows greater grid flexibility as distributors can buy electricity during off-peak times when energy is cheap and sell it to the grid when it is in greater demand. This allows us to virtually eliminate blackouts or grid disruption by having this option. Energy storage helps provide resilience since it can serve as a backup energy supply when power plant generation is interrupted. In the case of Puerto Rico, where there is minimal energy storage and grid flexibility, it took approximately a year for electricity to be restored to all residents. This brings to mind what is currently happening with Covid-19. Everyone is socially distancing and staying at home more, which causes electricity to be used more continuously, which puts pressure on the grid. The ability to store energy during non-peak hours and use it during peak hours to take pressure off of the grid would be a great option. 

There are a few different options available currently for energy storage, but the goal is to make it readily available for consumer usage.  The main type of energy storage that is currently used for home is battery storage.  Lithium-ion is the most widely used type of battery because it’s easier to access and control. There are currently a few distributors focused on making these battery storage packs available for commercial and home use, but Tesla is currently the most popular. Tesla’s Powerwall and Powerpack are highly efficient lithium-ion rechargeable battery platforms, with the Powerpack intended for home use and Powerwall designed for commercial or grid use. The latter can be used in multiple applications including peak shaving, demand response, voltage control, and a backup power reserve. A great example of Powerwall integration debuted last year in Australia where a series of battery units provided 129 MW of storage to the Neoen’s Hornsdale Wind Farm, supplying enough power for 30,000 homes. Lithium-ion batteries are difficult to recycle however, so it’s not always the best ecological option. Thermal energy is also an option where water, sand, rocks and molten salt are heated and cooled and the energy is collected and stored. This is a great way to store energy for a long number of years without failure or loss of substance.

 

Other options for energy storage on a higher scale include redox flow batteries (fuel cell), which replace solid electrodes with energy-dense electrolytic compounds (hydrogen-lithium bromate, bromine-hydrogen, organic, etc.) separated by a membrane that charge and discharge as the liquids circulate in their own respective space. Ion exchange occurs through the membrane separator when the electrolytes undergo reduction and oxidation (redox) and in turn can store large amounts of energy, perfect for tying into the grid. Flywheel energy storage is also an option. Flywheel energy storage functions by accelerating a rotor to high speed and maintaining the power as rotating energy. When that energy is drawn from the system, the flywheel rotational speed is reduced and accelerated when energy is reintroduced. Compressed air energy storage (CAES) plants are similar to pumped hydro power plants; only instead of pumping water from a lower to an upper pond, ambient air is compressed and stored under pressure in underground caverns to store energy. When that energy is required, the pressurized air is heated and expanded in a turbine, therefore driving a generator for power production. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is in the process of developing a CAES system for power plants in inland Washington and Oregon areas when additional power is needed for peak demands. The last current major type of energy storage is hydroelectric storage. Pumped hydroelectric storage stores energy using water contained in an upper reservoir that is electrically pumped from a lower reservoir. During peak electrical demand, additional power is produced by releasing the stored water through turbines in the same manner as a traditional hydroelectric dam. When the need for energy is reduced, the water is then transferred back up into the higher reservoir usually by the same turbines, which can act as both pump and generator.

 

Fuel poverty and energy vulnerability is an issue that so many people around the world face. Whether it’s due to grid instability or unavailability, infrastructure or cost, people are going without basic energy needs.  It is very clear that our current electrical systems and infrastructures need an update so that all citizens have equal access to energy.  This is what energy storage offers. Energy storage allows us to utilize alternate forms of energy. By having multiple options, there is less pressure on the energy grid, which could give it a chance to stabilize and be repaired so it is more consumer friendly. Having energy storage options allows for prices to stabilize as well.  When energy is being used extensively during peak hours, prices can rise in order to accommodate everyone. Electricity is known to be cheaper at night so having the ability to store it during those hours and use it during the day will cut costs for a lot of people. Because energy storage is becoming more popular, the prices are decreasing, which will allow it to be used more widely. Environmental advocates and foundations have spent the last thirty or more years designing and refining and defending rules and public funding for energy efficiency and solar technologies. Clean energy discussions are happening every day but there is still a lot more work to do.It will require a similar level of dedicated philanthropic support, NGO engagement, policy advocacy, state intervention, industry partnerships, financial creativity, and careful thought.  Public policy is the way for energy storage to take the lead. There are many societal benefits to prioritizing energy storage such as “advancing technological innovations such as energy storage in underserved communities, to lower energy burdens, improve energy resilience, decrease reliance on polluting power plants, create more local jobs, provide workforce development opportunities, and enable wealth creation.”

 

“Storage needs to compete on economics, and there’s no getting around that. But the industry could gain from forging new alliances with stakeholders that have overlapping interests.… Environmental justice is a logical place to start, because storage is well equipped to tackle the environmental damage that often falls more heavily on poor or minority populations.” Juian Spector, Greentech Media...One purpose of energy storage is to have a reliable back up to protect us during power outages and natural disasters. While these events affect everyone, some groups of people face more harm than others. Poor, elderly and disabled communities are at more of a disadvantage in situations like these because they are less mobile, less able to withstand the dangers from an outage, and less able to recover from a disaster.    Disadvantaged communities have fewer resources; they may not be able to relocate to a hotel or temporary housing during or after a storm. And they tend to be under-insured, so it is more difficult for them to recover from property losses. If power outages disrupt the ability to go to work, the resulting disruptions in income hit harder in communities that have fewer economic resources. Many disabled and elderly people rely on electricity for powering their medical devices or refrigeration of medication, so loss of energy could be deadly for them. Energy storage can help with reducing monthly charges as well as be available during power outages. Adapting to a solar power system with storage capabilities seems like the best option for low income communities. As talked about, energy demand charges happen when energy is in high demand and you basically need to pay extra for needing energy at certain times during the day. In low income communities, where sometimes families can’t even afford their regular bills, having these surge charges can be debilitating.  Having the option to rely on stored energy can save a lot of money in the long run. It is proven that clean energy has major benefits when it comes to health and the environment as well, so these technologies could potentially increase the quality of life. Solar+storage systems are also possible drivers of local economic development. Savings from systems can be reinvested in affordable housing and community buildings. Local groups can own or lease solar+storage systems, leading to more community-led investment. More installations of such systems in low-income communities and communities of color also can provide a semblance of equity in the energy system.

Areas benefitting from Energy Storage

Energy storage is starting to be utilized in different areas where natural disasters are more likely to occur, for example Australia and California, both of which are often subject to earthquakes and wildfires. These situations can often cause the grid to fail due to poor infrastructure, so having an energy storage option would create a lot of positive changes. Solar power is a huge source of energy currently in Australia over the past ten years, with the number of panels growing from 100,000 to 2.2 million. Australia is focused on going green, with 75% of their supply being powered by renewable energy by 2025. California recently decided to adopt an energy storage initiative that will impact its most vulnerable populations. Criteria for being eligible for this initiative is  “located in a Disadvantaged Community (DAC) or at least 80% of the households have incomes at or below 60% of the area median income.” Being known to lead the country with green initiatives, the state has budgeted over half a billion dollars in order to create a battery storage system that will help citizens continue to have access to energy during deadly wildfires and earthquakes. The budget aims to mainly protect low-income, medically vulnerable groups as well as critical facilities, such as hospitals and supermarkets. Power outages can last a very long time after these disasters occur, so having this protection in place will help a lot. California also has a self generation incentive program, which motivates consumers to use alternative energy sources to generate and store their own electricity. If citizens opt to join their program, they actually get paid by the state at the current rate of over one dollar per watt stored.  This benefits them in multiple ways, as they have power protection and get the incentives. California has a lot of grid vulnerabilities, so taking advantage of the incentives they offer and using solar power and energy storage has so many benefits.  Massachusetts also has a solar and storage incentive program called Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) but only 2 percent serves low income communities, so they are currently working on revisions to increase participation.

Contingency Implementation

As discussed throughout this paper, there are many benefits to energy storage but there are also some opportunities for improvement, which can be adapted through the next couple of years.  By being able to identify these vulnerabilities early on, the system can be improved and strengthened.  Current lax security standards can allow hackers to integrate inverters that store energy and manipulate power outputs or damage batteries and bring the whole local grid system down.  Standard grid systems are already susceptible to attacks, as we saw with Ukraine in 2016.  Manipulating a battery could cause it to explode which would destroy capabilities to store energy. Systems could be destroyed in seconds if they are compromised. 

Lack of encryption in communication protocols, and weak passwords, are a major security vulnerability for all inverters, whether domestic or commercial. This can be improved by tightening up encryption and having regular penetration testing, which analyzes a system’s vulnerabilities. Sometimes working with batteries can cause issues as well, such as fires. Different batteries have different benefits but all are at risk of failure. Trying to find sites and permits for energy storage can require a lot of effort when sometimes it is just easier to go with a system that already exists. I believe the benefits of energy storage outweigh the vulnerabilities though. 

 

The future of energy storage is vast. It has proven to work, now the goal is to make it widespread and easily accessible for everyone.  Energy storage will not only allow citizens endless access to energy during an event that leaves the grid unable to provide the adequate amount of energy, but it gives more options for different types of energy. We have been dealing with issues of climate change and global warming for some time now, which are caused by greenhouse gases. By switching to a system where we can utilize more renewable energy options, we are ensuring that our planet has the chance to recuperate and last a little longer. The prospects of an energy storage market allow for so much, including control over energy costs and even new jobs and businesses can be created. An example of a business that I have thought of for a long time is gyms where you can use exercise equipment to generate energy and store it on battery power packs to use at a later time. People would pay a service fee to use the facilities but much like going to a gym, the benefits are more for the consumer. This allows for more widespread access to energy storage and gets people involved so they can learn more about the subject and continue to be invested in energy storage, which will allow it to continue to develop and increase usage. Other business ideas include charging stations and virtual power plants. If we want more people and organisations to use energy storage, we need to make it easy and cost-efficient. Energy-storage-as-a-service is a very promising concept that could achieve that.  In the energy-storage-as-a-service model, energy becomes available to the customer as a service, in the same way as subscriptions for food, accessories, films or music. Energy-storage-as-a-service can curb the barrier of high upfront investment costs, help aggregate multiple storage revenue sources, and give the public the opportunity to test a solution without committing to a long-term investment.  

 

The main thing that energy storage companies need to work on is making energy a cost effective option. There are so many benefits to energy storage, especially when it comes to energy vulnerability, but if cost is still an issue, then it isn’t anymore an effective solution for fuel poverty then the options that are already out there.  We know there are many incentives for switching over to an energy storage system, but first this new method has to be accepted and sought after by the public. “The future city is a storage city: a smart city where energy is needed on the go, a city where a large share of energy comes from renewable sources, a city where the internet-of-things allows communication between appliances and infrastructure. A future with battery-powered gadgets and vehicles, appliances, fuel cells and skyscrapers made of hydrogen-produced steel, thermal grids for heating entire neighborhoods and cooling supermarkets.” Doing the research for this assignment has shown me the possibilities for the future if we are able to continue to adapt energy storage and make it dominant in the energy industry. Energy vulnerability occurs when people are disadvantaged whether it’s due to inability to afford electricity, infrastructure, and grid instability or issues. I believe that in the future, energy storage will provide a viable option to help decrease energy vulnerability because it is a more mobile system and there are more possibilities than a traditional grid. We will never be a free and equal country as long as we don’t have equal rights and access to energy and I believe energy storage can eventually bridge that gap.