It takes a lot of energy generation to keep a big state like Texas running. So where do the electrical utilities store all that electricity while they’re waiting for us to use it? For the most part, nowhere — but that’s starting to change.
Storage for the Power Grid
There are a lot of great things about electricity, not the least of which is that it’s easy to move from Point A to Point B. Just connect the points with a network of wiring, and you can get electricity pretty much anywhere those wires will reach.
Storing electricity is another matter. We have the technology, of course: the battery. And when it comes to powering up something like a TV remote, a dollar’s worth of tiny batteries will go a long way. But when you’re talking about a massive electrical grid supplying electricity to millions of Texans, the batteries need to be pretty big to make much of a difference. And that makes them expensive — so expensive that there are relatively few batteries used for this purpose.
So for the most part, the electricity you use in your home is generated on demand by your local utility and renewable sources. As the energy demand changes from its peak during daytime hours to quiet nighttime hours, grid operators reduce the amount of electricity being produced.
Batteries to Store Electricity
There are a couple of reasons why you should expect massive batteries to become a part of the energy grid of the future. The first is that while these batteries are often prohibitively expensive now, they’re getting cheaper every year. Before long, they’ll be economically viable solutions for a variety of energy challenges.
Another reason is the spread of renewable energy infrastructure like wind turbines and solar panels. The good thing about sun and wind is that it’s free, but the downside is that we can’t control when they’re available. On windy nights in the vast wind farms that dot the Texas landscape, the turbines might be generating more electricity than the grid demands — and because it can’t be stored, it’s wasted. Batteries would make it possible to save that electricity for the next day’s peak demand.
While utility grade batteries are rare, they’re not unheard of, even here in Texas. In 2010, the small city of Presidio in West Texas installed a gigantic battery capable of powering the entire town. Presidio sat at the end of a long, aging transmission line that was contributing to frequent blackouts, and because of its remote location, it was cost-effective to install a battery instead of upgrading the line.
Innovation in Energy Storage
Big batteries are coming, but in the meantime, some energy developers are looking at a novel approach to storing that wasted energy: compressed air energy storage, or CAES.
CAES takes advantage of huge underground caverns of the type found throughout Texas. The idea is to use the excess wind energy produced overnight to power massive air compressors that pump these caverns full of air. When energy demand rises the next day, the air pressure is released from the cavern through a series of turbines, converting the wind back into electricity.
Between advances in battery technology and innovations like CAES, the future of electricity delivery in Texas is cleaner, cheaper and more reliable.