Horses, fire and batteries, a power journey in energy storage

This year GE launched the biggest innovation in its energy storage portfolio, GE Energy Reservoir platform.
Published: Wed 28 Mar 2018
A blog entry by Mirko Molinari

Contributed by:

Mirko Molinari
Energy Storage Commercial Leader

Mirko Molinari's Blog

For thousands of years, the standard way to transform energy into useful work was muscle power, from humans or horses, donkeys and other animals. To be sure to have it available when needed, there was no other way than storing food and accumulating body fat (if possible); we had to make sure we had enough hay stored in the barn to get around the whole winter or our horses or oxen would have been too weak or even starved to death.

Up to the early 1900’s, city streets bustled with hoofs propelling commerce forward until the spark of the internal combustion engine roared onto the scene.

Innovation propelled by market forces pushed humankind to change the way energy was transformed. The changes this made to the shape of our cities and transportation were small in comparison to the dramatic changes this made to infrastructure and related investment: the oil & gas industry was created.

Oil went from being used as a lubricant and sealant, to a dominating commodity impacting national energy security. Oil reserves have helped shaping global geopolitics to this day because the storage of energy under the form of fluid hydrocarbon became our fundamental way of ensuring access to useful energy for whatever we needed to do.
Finding, extracting, processing, transporting and distributing hydrocarbon became the main activities of many of the largest companies in the world.

Similar dynamics impacted the electrical industry. As automobiles began to fill the streets, light switches made their way into homes. Thermodynamics applied to electricity generation drove the development of bigger, hotter-burning turbines and engines to meet rising demand for electricity. These were connected to homes and businesses giving birth to the largest machine ever built: the electrical grid.

This complicated and articulated system, derives its complexity from a single very simple technical principle: that production and consumption of electricity across homes, states and nations connected to the same grid system must match at every point in time. If not, the system fails and falls into blackout.

For the past 100+ years, the powergen and T&D industry have deployed increasingly sophisticated ways to control, balance the grid and restore from faults, including nowadays software platforms that are essentials to manage this complexity in a more and more capillary efficient and automated ways, including the latest evolutions of artificial intelligence suites and IoT connectivity. GE has been working in this space since the grid’s invention and today our power generation installed base produces approximately 30% of the world’s electricity while our grid software manages even more of the electrons flowing on the world’s grids.

But another energy disruption is underway challenging the way this whole system works.

Barrels disrupted barns and now here comes the sun.

We wrote in our recent Reimagining our Electricity Future white paper that the most relevant development in power generation in the last decade has been the growth of combustion-free power from the wind and sun. Analysts are divided on how much renewables will represent in the world’s future energy mix, but we know it will be significant enough to change the grid and the whole energy system we know it today.

A system that was built on controllable and centralized power generation is now tasked with incorporating massive amounts of energy that can be unpredictable, uncontrollable and distributed throughout the grid. Nor wind’s kinetic energy nor electromagnetic radiations from the sun are as conducive as hay, oil, gas or any fossil fuel to being stored in barns, barrels, pipelines or other deposits in order be deployed when needed.

Software and controls will keep evolving to manage this complexity but the deployment of material storage capability —the ability to store electricity and add it to the grid when needed—will be an essential complement to be able to ensure reliable and resilient operations, whether in large grid or microgrid systems.

Energy storage, under the form of electricity storage it is a formidable tool that can be deployed in multiple ways, for example

• Quickly ramping up thermal power generation to “fill the gaps” when needed
• Grid restoration and power plant blackstart
• Managing renewable intermittency, and increase capacity factor
• Shaving or shifting excess renewable production in order to make them “dispatchable”
• Regulating frequencies in transmission network at a sub-second reaction time
• Voltage regulations and fault restoration in distribution network
• Power quality features such as reactive power management, synthetic inertia and others
• Microgrid management
and many others

GE is familiar with all of these applications because we’ve been in energy storage for more than 10 years accumulating a wealth of expertise. We have developed patents and sophisticated control algorithms to put batteries to work in more innovative and challenging applications like the world first Hybrid Electric Gas Turbine and the first blackstart application on a real operational case in Coachella Valley, California.

This year we launched the biggest innovation in our storage portfolio, GE Energy Reservoir platform.

The first product of this new family is a modular 1.2MW, 4MWh system we rolled out at CERA Week earlier this month. This system can be scaled up or down depending on customer need and can provide benefits at several points in the energy network including:

• 15% longer battery life
• Reduced installation time by up to 50%
• Increased safety by reducing fault current up to 5x
• Up to 50% more solar energy sales in a DC system
• “Hybrid-ready” configuration with various power or grid devices
• DERMS-ready and microgrid capabilities for applications at the distribution level
• A full digital suite leveraging all the Predix-enabled GE capabilities, including digital twin, Asset Performance Management, dispatch optimizer and other edge-to-cloud IoT capabilities to enable further value streams.

We can’t think of a future energy system significantly powered by renewables without a massive deployment of energy storage across the grid. The GE Reservoir is designed to be a versatile building block for the future of our energy system; we’ll use to help our customers manage through this disruptive time in the energy landscape.

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