In coming days, we’ll be talking about how to “power up” renewable energy.

Everyone’s talking renewables. G8 leaders are talking about reducing CO2 emissions and increasing renewables; federal and state officials are talking about tough new renewable portfolio standards; many in the general public seem eager to embrace renewables as the only logical way to address global warming (although whether or not they are aware of the price of renewable energy remains unclear).

There’s a fundamental problem, however. The one thing no one is talking about is perhaps the one thing that would make the transition to renewables work, namely energy storage.

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While it’s true that electricity itself cannot be stored, electricity can be stored in a different form … after all, that’s what a battery is.

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The reason storage is so essential to renewables is the renewables are intermittent — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, and they are often located in areas far from population centers. Because the price of wholesale electricity varies throughout the day, when electricity is sold is just as important as how much electricity is sold. But if you can store the energy generated on a sunny or windy day and then inject that energy into the grid at periods of high demand … well, then you’ve got yourself a market. You’ve got both physical and economic control over your resource and the leverage with which to build increasing demand for your product.

So coupling bulk energy storage with renewable energy — especially remotely located wind farms — creates a more reliable market for the energy generated and a more attractive environment for investment. Perhaps most importantly, storage also begins to make renewably generated electricity behave, from a market and supply perspective, like electricity from baseload plants such as nuclear.

Before we expect too much from renewables and are disappointed by their failure to perform, we need to start talking about giving them the power they need to succeed. We need to be talking about storage.


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