“This concept is what utilities called community energy storage. Instead of having one large (storage system), you distribute the storage units closer to the consumers” to serve them more effectively, said Sandeep Bala, a power electronics research engineer at ABB.
I caught up with Bala recently to learn more about the challenges of transforming car batteries into energy piggy banks for the electric grid. The task isn’t simply about strapping together used lithium-ion battery cells, putting them in large boxes or cabinets and marketing them as energy storage units. Bala and his colleagues will have to figure out many key issues, including convincing utilities that used batteries can deliver solid performance at an attractive price.
“What we are trying to figure out is how to use these used batteries in a way that will be competitive against new batteries. Price is a tricky issue,” Bala said. “The idea is to have a field demonstration unit and use it to figure out what to do with used batteries.”
The utilities’ interest in energy storage technologies has grown significantly in recent years primarily because they are adding more and more solar and wind electricity to their energy mix. Solar and wind farms can’t deliver a steady flow of power to the electric grid — they only produce electricity when the sun shines or the wind blows. But they satisfy the mandate of many states to use cleaner sources of power.