Batteries: Storing electricity opens new opportunities

July 11, 2020

When you turn on your light switch, the electricity needed in that moment must be produced at the same time. But this concept has changed in recent years as potential has grown for energy storage allowing for energy produced at one time to be used later.

Storing electricity has potential to open new opportunities for electric cooperatives like Stearns Electric Association, and its wholesale power provider Great River Energy.

Rather than producing electricity in the exact moment it is needed, energy storage would allow Cooperative members to use electricity when it costs less.

Storing Today’s Electricity

There are a couple of ways Stearns Electric members can take advantage of storage today.

Members can store electricity through their water heater, which acts like a “thermal battery.” This is known as electric thermal storage (ETS). ETS water heaters store electricity in the form of hot water, which is heated overnight when energy prices are low.

The ETS systems take advantage of off-peak electricity, saving participating members money by charging while demand and energy costs are lower.

There are also ETS programs for home heating. Low-cost, off-peak electricity is used to heat ceramic blocks that hold enough heat to keep a house warm the following day – even on the coldest winter day.

These same principles hold true for charging electric cars or other traditional battery sources.

The Future, Grid-scale Storage

With more renewable energy on the electric grid, batteries have the potential to store electricity for use when the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow. These technologies are still developing, but more electric utilities are looking to large battery systems to store power.

New technology is continually being researched and developed when it comes to storing electricity, and each one has both benefits and disadvantages. With declining costs and increasing development, battery storage is just beginning.