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Store Power in Super Batteries

Mar 23, 2009 - Vince Beiser - Wired Magazine

Photo: James Day


Power to the People

Deliver Clean Energy to Distant Cities

Store Power in Super Batteries

Monitor the Electrons in Real Time

Trade Electricity Like Pork Bellies

Think Negawatts, Not Megawatts

Make Conversvation Simple (and Easy)

Electricity is the ultimate just-in-time commodity, sent off to consumers as soon as it's generated. But solar and wind installations produce power only when the sun is shining or a breeze is blowing. If you could bank that energy when it's abundant and release it later as needed, you'd have a more reliable, more environmentally sound power grid.

Obama's stimulus package includes $2 billion in grants for battery development. For power grids, sodium-sulfur technology is the best bet. It's more efficient and power-dense than zinc-bromide or lead-acid, and in Japan, where NaS batteries are made, enough have been installed to power the equivalent of at least 155,000 homes. Later this year or next, American Electric Power, a major utility serving 11 midwestern states, will install 4 megawatts' worth of NaS cells in Presidio, Texas. That's on top of the 6 megawatts of battery power AEP installed in three other states last year. "We wanted a real thing that really works," says Ali Nourai, AEP's manager of distributed energy resources. "We didn't want to send a technician out every other day to fix some experimental system." Regulatory uncertainties still abound, but utilities across the US plan to bring sodium-sulfur systems online. Soon, more and more cities will come with batteries included.

Other Energy Storage Technologies

Compressed Air
Off-peak power forces air into a sealed space (like an abandoned mine or salt dome); when energy is needed, the air is released and burned with natural gas to spin a turbine.

Huge, heavy wheels get spun up by a generator. When they decelerate, they spit the power back out, providing an uninterruptible backup energy supply.
Pumped Hydro
Water is pushed up an incline to a reservoir. To put electricity back into the grid, the water is allowed to rush back down, driving a set of turbines.
Illustrations: Lamosca