Renewable energy requires energy storage

    Solar and wind energy may become primary components of our nation’s alternative energy sources in the future. But how do we use this energy efficiently? What happens to the energy that is generated during non-peak usage periods?

    For example, wind power generated at non-peak hours such as 3 a.m. can be wasted unless an efficient storage system is used. Conversely, solar energy is obviously not generated at night, yet some level of energy is still required to power homes and businesses. How do we store that energy so that it can be used when the sun isn’t generating power?

    The answer is energy storage systems which are available right now to commercial and even consumer usage. In fact, state-of the-art energy storage systems are currently on display at the Future House USA exhibit at the Beijing Olympics.

    To think that we can effectively use solar and wind energy without some sort of energy storage is inconsistent with the purpose of renewable energy. The question, then, is how to use these alternative energy sources efficiently, allowing energy to be stored for use when it is most needed. That’s where energy storage comes in to the picture.

    Energy storage systems enable users to use energy when they most need it, while avoiding waste during off-peak hours when it is generated. This maximizes the use of wind and solar power and other alternative energy sources.

    But energy storage has applications beyond the use of solar and wind power.

    In electric utility applications, energy storage systems can be used to reduce the load on sub-station transformers and even fossil fueled generating stations that are working at maximum capacity during times of peak demand. This enables the utility to defer costly capital upgrades by charging the energy storage device at night and using that stored energy during these peak times and thereby reducing the work load on both the sub-station and generating stations. 

    If current discussion is correct on the estimated $1 trillion that will need to be spent to upgrade the transmission and distribution infrastructure in the United States to be able to support the growing demand for energy and to accommodate proposed renewable energy generation, then the need for energy storage is even more urgent and compelling.

    Energy storage can also have household implications. The Future House USA project currently on display at the Beijing Olympics is a Zero Net Energy structure, meaning it generates its own energy off-grid. The project uses a zinc bromide energy storage system to store solar energy generated during the day for use when the sun is not available to generate power.

    Future House USA incorporates five elements: energy efficiency, indoor air quality, water consumption, storm water management and construction recycling in order to achieve a design to maximize the homes energy efficiency, environmental compatibility and sustainability. This design has achieved a ZNE home, generating and utilizing all of its own energy. Energy storage is a key element in achieving ZNE.

    Our nation’s energy independence will require renewable, green energy sources. But without the ability to store that energy, much of it will be wasted.

    We simply can’t afford that waste, particularly when there are viable solutions available today.


    Rob Parry is the chief executive officer of ZBB Energy Corp. of Menomonee Falls.

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