The Technology That’s Disrupting the Energy Grid as We Know It

David Fessler By David Fessler
Energy and Infrastructure Strategist, The Oxford Club

Alternative Energy

The U.S. electric grid is one of the greatest engineering achievements of modern times. Without it, life here would come to an abrupt halt. It has served us well for more than a century.

But today, our grid is at a tipping point. It is rapidly becoming outdated.

Our grid is based on large, centralized power-generation plants. Combined with transmission lines, transformer substations and dumb switches, these plants provide us – the end users – with a one-way power flow.

But that framework won’t work with the renewable generating assets that continue to come online…

The 20th-Century Grid: A Disrupted Network

Since the earliest days of the grid, customers have used electricity as soon as power plants generate it. And its perishable nature made addressing maximum expected demand peaks a significant challenge.

Because of this centralized, one-way design, the entire grid is vulnerable to all types of disruptions. It’s also unable to adapt to rapidly changing network conditions.

Compare our energy grid with other centralized networks we rely on such as natural gas, food supply, transportation or data.

All of these have a robust supply chain. And all have the ability to store about 10% of our daily usage.

Our centralized electrical network does not have this capability. It can store only about 20 minutes of our overall daily needs.

Energy Storage: A Game Changer for the Power Grid

There are two key problems hampering our current energy grid… Energy storage could offer a solution to both.

The first problem is wasted energy. We waste thousands of megawatt-hours of renewable power annually from wind, solar and other renewable sources because of an oversupply issue. Our grid needs to more readily accommodate these sources.

The second problem is service disruptions. They are often massive and require weeks or even months to fix. The current mess in Puerto Rico is a prime example of an overworked, ancient power grid.

At minimum, it’s going to take many months for many customers there to get power again.

Outages are hardly a rare phenomenon. In fact, power outages cost the U.S. $150 billion every year.

By implementing energy storage on our electrical grid, the problem of outages would be history.

A Failing Electrical Grid: Affecting More Than Just Your Light Switch

Our electrical grid and our data network are becoming inseparable.

That makes an outage even more costly. Server farms and data centers are the internet’s backbone. They are also critical to our banking, transportation and communications networks.

They cannot go offline.

The estimated cost of a power loss to a data center is more than $9,000 per minute.

Larger installations lose millions of dollars an hour.

Today’s grid loads are becoming more dynamic by nature. It makes sense that the grid must also be dynamic to effectively handle these loads and reduce peak demand.

As opposed to a centralized electrical network, distributed energy storage systems can effectively time-shift vast quantities of energy. That means energy capacity will be there – when and where it’s required.

Unpredictable and dynamic loads will no longer be an issue. Backup power for a single customer or an entire neighborhood or town will become a reality.

A New Energy Reality

We need a disruption-proof grid…One that’s self-healing after a widespread outage.

Energy storage can give us that… and it’s easily scalable.

Systems from a few kilowatt-hours to hundreds of megawatt-hours are deploying in power networks around the world.

If one thing is certain, it’s that electrification of the global economy is underway. And our nation’s power grid is the cornerstone of an electrified economy.

Good investing,

Dave

P.S. Due to the increasing demand for effective energy storage on our electrical grid, battery technology is evolving rapidly…

It’s part of a global scarcity story, since battery manufacturers are turning to new materials to keep the lights on.

In the December issue of Oxford Resource Explorer, which is being published today, I give readers a recommendation based on this reality. It’s a pick-and-shovel play, specifically one riding the massive surge in two materials critical to the development of battery technology.

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