Just in the nick of climate-change time, grid-scale energy storage poised to come of age.

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Wireless 5G and the AI-enabled IoT Cloud Edge definitely are digitalization change agents across all industries and globally. Now, however, they sit at the threshold of solving utility-scale renewable energy storage. And getting this done, now, fast will be how all of industry advances toward carbon neutrality 2030

The good news is that — while obstacles remain — storage is an area getting serious investment and development attention, with both public utilities and industry players rapidly taking on projects. Energy storage is now growing apace with the renewable energy generation sector, and prices are dropping fast. Yet investors still do struggling to understand how to value energy storage as an investment, and that’s not an uncommon issue in the sustainable digital transformation era of which renewable energy, smart-grid storage is a foundation edge — the Industrial IoT Edge for utilities and large private industry users, notably the hyperscale cloud class of mega data center operators.

Energy research and consultancy firm, Wood McKenzie, in a Fall of 2019 research report, points to a steep demand growth for not just renewable energy in the distribution mix, but 100 percent renewable energy provision over time as a consequence of public and private user demand. The research sees a trajectory of 12gigaWatt hours of renewable production in 2018 escalating an estimated 13X to 158gWh by the close of 2024 — six years.  

Wood McKenzie projects that just the renewable energy storage component of this growth alone will amount to $150 billion over the same period. That is out of a $375 billion overall investment in upgrading and modernizing the US power distribution grid, in part to accommodate the intermittent anomalies of solar and wind. 

Grid storage is a climate-change solution must-have, to put it bluntly. As the world slowly awakens to the rather dramatic climate change risks and threats, the requirement to wring carbon out of the atmosphere is a strong candidate for Job One

Is storage the key?

The very kinetics of the Digital Transformation of the global economy make grid-scale energy storage one of the most important keys to unlocking the potential to meet a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidance for carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon zero by 2050. While wind and solar costs have plummeted, storage becomes the primary barrier to entry for renewables to grow quickly on the grid.

The world’s electrical energy supply is undergoing its own carbon-shedding digital transformation. Wind and solar technologies have followed a familiar technology trajectory of ever-increasing performance and ever-dropping costs technology. Of the so-called “clean” electricity-generating technologies, over a ten-year-period non-hydroelectric renewable electricity production capacity has more than doubled. 

Still, Intermittency — night-time, inclement weather, cloudy periods, no wind —  for solar and wind — remains the problem to solve. While pumped-storage hydropower holds the overwhelming share of today’s grid-scale storage, both price and performance of lithium-ion batteries now make it competitive for both its cost-effective performance and resiliency, but more so for one of today’s technology’s most important attributes — portability. 

Tesla’s li-ion battery leads the non-hydro pumped reservoir renewables. But li-ion isn’t the only player ready for prime-time. There are a bunch of clean technology contenders prepared to battle for their respective shares of a market that has grown from single-digit megaWatts in the decade after the turn of the century to 866mW by 2019, says the US Energy Information Agency. 

Solar as peaking power solution — imagine that!

It’s now at a point where — because of the performance and resilience state of battery technology — renewable storage is able to compete effectively with natural gas-powered “peaker” generation plants intended to relieve the grid only at hours of peak demand. 

Meanwhile, the price for battery storage has plummeted by 76 percent in less than a decade, according to the New Energy Finance Report from Bloomberg. Li-ion batteries will likely be the dominant technology for most of the coming decade and effectively decarbonize the peak load battle, with enough capacity to hold solar-generated power through to urban-market evening peak electricity demand — well-exceeding the four-plus hours available in today’s batteries.

While that’s great and necessary progress for renewables, it’s still a mighty long stretch to get from handling peaking requirements to base electric load generation. 

Here’s where the other technologies may play a game that li-ion today likely cannot. Again leaving out the relative simplicity of reservoir pumped-storage, redox flow batteries and hydrogen fuel cells are two of the most likely technologies to reach true grid-scale storage price/performance requirements fastest.

This is how the global power grids will get decarbonized — a giant leap toward Carbon Neutral 2030 in keeping with the COP21 Paris Agreement directives. 

END PART I

Preview, PART II: Here’s what the other half of this will talk about: 

We’ll discuss renewable energy storage for baseline energy load storage. And we will fully explore how 5G wireless network connectivity serving AI/ML-enabled analytics and predictives of the Industrial IoT for grid control. Considered will be the locating this at the point of renewable energy gen-and-store data capture. And bring virtual power plant transmission and distribution capability to the site.  Altogether this modern Energy Edge is perhaps the single most important Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Transformation story yet.

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