Utility Energy Storage No Longer Just Giant Batteries

By Martin LaMonica of CNET News on November 25, 2009

The Department of Energy on Tuesday announced that $620 million in stimulus funding is going to 32 smart-grid programs, which will be coupled with another $1 billion in private money. A total of $770 million from government and industry sources in the next few years will go to energy storage, giving a number of storage technologies a dose of real-world experience.

Notable in the list is the prominence of compressed-air energy storage and flow batteries, two technologies rarely discussed just a few years ago. Also in the mix are flywheels and using batteries for distributed energy storage in communities.

It's unlikely that all the DOE-aided projects will immediately prove to be commercially viable. But storage has clearly emerged as a key component in the vision of the smart grid. A number of start-ups are developing technologies they hope can address a specific storage application or undercut pumped hydro, considered the cheapest form of utility storage, on price. With pumped hydro, water is pumped uphill and released at peak times to run a generator. But its use is limited by geography.

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