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Is Battery Power in Your Future? It Should Be

Today, most of us are passive consumers of energy produced in large power plants. In the very near future, however, most of us will also become energy producers. The traditional “one-to-many” model of energy distribution will evolve rapidly into a “many-to-many” network of users and suppliers.

Imagine this scenario: When you arrive home, you plug your EV into your home battery storage system. Your home system will “read” the status of the battery in your EV and determine if it needs additional charging or if it has more energy than you’re likely to need in the next couple of hours.

Your home system is connected to a large network of providers and consumers. If your system detects that you have more energy in your car battery than you need, it will reach out to the network and find out if there’s any demand for your excess power. It will also check the price that buyers are willing to pay. If the price is right, it will “sell” your power and your account will be credited automatically. Voila, you’ve made money by simply plugging your EV into a wall socket in your garage!

Similar to how the internet enabled anyone to become a publisher, this new “internet of electricity” will allow anyone to become a power supplier.

Battery Culture

Without much fanfare, a battery culture is emerging. Part of what’s driving the battery culture are globally popular consumer products such as smart phones, laptops and electric vehicles, all of which run on lithium-ion batteries.

The downside of lithium-ion batteries are their weight and cost. The upside is their efficiency: A one-kilogram lithium-ion battery can store up to 150 watt-hours of electricity. Weight can be a problem if the battery is powering your car, laptop or phone. But weight isn’t an issue when the battery is installed in a home or commercial building. I predict that within a short time span, most buildings will have battery storage systems, and that many of those systems will be connected to the grid, enabling two-way exchange of energy.

If you’re passionate about energy, the next five or six years will be exciting times. We’ll see amazing developments that will both democratize and complicate our relationships with energy. Clearly, the clean energy trend will continue and accelerate. At the same time, we’ll see far less use of dirty fuels such as coal and oil. We’ll have many more choices about which kinds of energy we want to consume. Digital information technologies and advanced data science techniques will allow us share electricity across networks, creating vast new opportunities for people all over the world.

Batteries will play a major role in the shift from centralized to distributed energy systems. Our power grids were born during an era in which bigger invariably mean better. Utilities were granted monopoly status because there didn’t seem to be an alternative way for ensuring that power would always be available whenever people needed it.

Today, we have alternatives and we have the motivation to use them. Clean and renewable energy sources are good for the environment and good for the economy. People generally agree that clean energy is an achievable goal. We’re still arguing over the best ways to achieve that goal, but I’m highly confident that the goal is within reach.

Enabling Energy Evolution

Electricity is a perishable product. It's here one moment and gone the next. Most of our electricity is generated on demand, and consumed within fractions of a second. When our grid system was set up, storage was not a priority. Today, storage is moving front and center.

Storage is important now for two reasons:

1. Stabilizing demand

2. Using variable energy sources (such as wind and solar) at scale

There are several ways to store power, but the most familiar method is battery storage. Research teams at companies and universities are racing to develop a new generation of batteries that are powerful, reliable, cost-effective and safe. We should be rooting for those research teams to succeed, because the quality of our lives going forward may depend on our ability to produce good batteries in large numbers.

This blog post is excerpted from Elena Cahill’s new upcoming book, POWER ECONOMICS: An Executive’s Guide to Energy Efficiency, Conservation, and Generation Strategies (Wiley, 2021). You can purchase or download copies of the book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Wiley and other online booksellers.

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