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July 2013 Policy Study, Number 13-5


Electricity – Make It, Use It – 24/7/365

Review of Electrical Grid Issues


Distributed Storage Issues



The impact of “micro-grids” driven by distributed generation, or personally owned and operated equipment, may mitigate some of the demand cycle issues. Solar energy is the most important form of distributed generation, and is growing quickly in states such as California where there are large tax incentives.


The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that electricity generated through distributed sources will grow by almost 17 percent per year through 2035. This is significant growth, a “36 fold increase from 2012.”[35] The EIA expects this rate of growth to be “considerably” higher than that of any other source over the next few years.


One of the problems with distributed solar photovoltaic generation is that peak generation times (noon) do not correlate with peak usage or demand times (evening) in residential homes. Net metering, where power is sold back to the main grid, addresses some of this issue. In net metering the extra energy generated during peak solar times is fed back into the overall system and the owner of the solar panels is paid (credited) for generation.


There are discussions about capping the amount a consumer could be credited for the generation in order to ensure that something is paid towards the overall system costs. A better solution is increasing distributed storage to go along with the distributed generation, keeping the electricity generated by a household at that household for future use.


Most households, including those with solar panels, do not have sufficient distributed storage equipment available. The primary means of distributed storage is through batteries, either lead-acid or hydrogen. Your typical double A or car battery will, unfortunately, not suffice.


A complaint about electric cars is that once the battery storage capacity falls below 80 percent, the advanced lithium ion battery is no longer able to be used to power the car. Additionally these batteries cost from $650 to $1,000 per kilowatt hour, with a 24 kWh battery being required to power a car. This battery cost adds significantly to the cost of electric cars.


At 80 percent storage, or about 19 kWh, which is the amount of electricity used on a daily basis to power a home, these batteries can be re-purposed after their useful car life is over to provide distributed storage.


This was analyzed and documented in a study reported in June 2012 in the Journal of Energy Engineering. Completed by engineers at Purdue University, the study determined that a 4 kW solar panel backed up by a 0.5-kW battery, an even smaller battery than that of an electric car, could save over $5 a day in electricity costs during the month of August.[36] As a heavy electricity usage month in most of the U.S., this would save about $150 in real costs to the consumer, as well as relieving peak demand from the overall grid.


It is also possible that a group of households with solar panels might be able to establish their own micro-grid system, feeding the solar energy into a single battery to power all their homes. This co-op system might work very well for residents in small towns or isolated regions, or even a clustered neighborhood or apartment complex.


Other distributed storage solutions include new “utility-scale lead acid battery” technologies, such as that developed by a power electronics and energy storage company in Wisconsin, ZBB Energy Corporation, for use by an energy cooperative in Wyoming. The batteries will store energy generated by solar and wind technologies for use during peak power demand times.[37]


Micro-grid systems can also contribute significantly to reliable energy in developing countries. For example, in Monrovia, Liberia, electricity is only available for about 14 hours a day during the week and 22 to 24 hours a day on the weekend for many people.[38] Successful distributed generation and storage systems could greatly improve their economy.




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