The Future of Energy Storage Innovation

05 Oct, 2015

By John Bobrowich

Energy storage solutions to revolutionize the way energy is created and used.

As in many industries, today’s energy industry is filled with constantly evolving technology and an endless desire to innovate. Keeping up with increasing energy demand, with a reduced carbon footprint, can be a difficult task, but is a challenge that the Midwest Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) has taken on in order to turn new research into viable solutions. One such solution is finding new ways to help a variety of emerging energy storage technologies to meet a rapidly growing list of new applications in a cost-effective manner.

M-WERC’s Strategic Roadmap for Energy Storage Systems (ESS), a report that’s the culmination of nine months of collaborative market and industry research by its members and energy industry experts, helps shed light on the upcoming changes and opportunities facing the industry. The roadmap addresses how new, emerging storage technologies combined with significant product cost reductions will evolve in the coming decades to accommodate a growing list of new product applications, as well as developing and aligning future research priorities with the expected market evolution.

With the face of energy storage changing, industry staples like pumped hydroelectric storage (PHS) are beginning to lose their domination as other, newer storage technologies such as compressed air, advanced battery and super capacitor technologies step up to more effectively meet the growing need for smaller and more distributed peak shaving, renewable energy back-up and grid support applications. New trends such as the use of advanced battery storage to back-up and augment intermittent renewable technologies such as wind power, solar power and more have begun to reshape the makeup in energy storage and will become increasingly important in the coming years.

As of 2013, PHS accounted for 75 percent of the global ESS market, but that number stands to fall to nearly 40 percent in projections by 2025. This 35 percent drop in market share will largely result from the growth in demand for the new technologies such as advanced batteries, now more popular than ever thanks to a surge in electric vehicle purchases. As interest in more efficient batteries continues to rise, future costs are anticipated to decline and open up new niches and eventually mass markets.

Additionally, M-WERC has spearheaded a significant number of collaborative research projects between industry, customers and academia to improve existing battery efficiency and effectiveness. One of which is to find new ways of decreasing the size and weight of batteries, while maintaining or exceeding previous energy storage capacity. A number of M-WERC member companies are currently delving into this challenge to keep up with industry demands.

M-WERC is also focusing on another angle in improving batteries by finding ways to incorporate multiple kinds of energy storage into a single storage unit, to allow for use in many applications. That way batteries, on the whole, can be more efficient and could potentially meet many types of applications with a single storage unit.

Another trend on the horizon for the ESS is driven by the increased acceptance of intermittent wind and solar-powered energy. Currently, the technology does not have the luxury of extensive bulk storage or distributed storage in substations or building, a deficit that could spur on major ESS growth to accommodate the new need.

Dillon Wind Power Project in California. Photo: Iberdrola Renewables

Dillon Wind Power Project in California. Photo: Iberdrola Renewables

While this technological partnership may be a few years off yet, it still offers incredible potential for the ESS market and is the focus of a large portion of energy research. For example, in 2013 the wind power industry employed approximately 50,000 people in all 50 states, and by the end of first quarter 2014, there were enough facilities to power more than 15 million U.S. homes. This drastic industry expansion is expected to continue in the coming years, creating a larger need for bulk energy storage.

M-WERC also has a few projects in the works looking deeper into distributed energy resources (DERS) and microgrids, which allow for power to be generated in smaller, decentralized units to cut down on transmission and distribution costs and losses associated with traditional large-scale production. M-WERC and its members have developed two major microgrid labs to test and validate advanced microgrids. The organization is also working with utilities, real estate developers and municipalities to develop advanced microgrids for new economic development zones and research campuses

Energy storage has the potential to completely reconfigure the way energy is created and used in the coming years. Renewed investment in this industry will affect not only the storage of energy, but enhance and encourage research in other areas of renewable energy creation and proliferation.

Going forward, the findings of the ESS roadmap will, hopefully, shape the research and discourse throughout the industry and foster more collaboration between companies and other research consortiums to further advance the innovation taking place. Already some of these have come to fruition, but through continued conversation and research, M-WERC and others will be able to make the most of these trends and solve pressing industry challenges.

About the Author
John Bobrowich, director, market and industry expansion and executive director emeritus at the Midwest Energy Research Consortium in Milwaukee, Wis. The M-WERC is focused on the growth and economic competitiveness of the energy, power and control industry cluster across the Midwest region; consisting of the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.