Digitalization, decentralization, innovative market design and electricity storage – these are the top issues identified by 1300 energy leaders around the world in a recent survey from the World Energy Council. Rapid growth in each of these areas – some very new – is the cause of disruptive change to energy markets around the world, says WEC.
Decentralization we know about, but electricity storage – both its physical manifestation and contractual arrangements around its deployment – seems to be the growth technology of the moment. Electricity storage is all about getting the most from intermittent generation sources that don’t necessarily generate power when its most needed. It’s a powerful aid, particularly for solar and wind generation. Grid operators are still working out the best contractual arrangement to reward storage operators and share the benefits.
Anyone who has worked with cogeneration will recognize the problem of intermittent generation of electricity. When an industrial site, for example, needs heat, the cogeneration plant also generates power and ways have to be found to use – or export to the grid – that power. It has been the case that cogeneration plants were undersized, so that their operators avoided tangling with complicated power export contracts. But it is better to size the plant correctly, according to site heat loads, and work out how to make money from power exports.
Many cogeneration operators also understand the role of heat storage to do a similar job of aligning energy generation with loads in a district heat or district cooling scenario. Less innovative than electricity storage, thermal energy storage is a familiar technology, particularly for district cooling systems. It does a similar job of getting the most from generation plant faced with highly variable loads.
Back to power – I note that decentralized generation specialist Wärtsilä last week made concrete the link between its engine generators and electricity storage, by acquiring the US-based Greensmith Energy Management Systems – a specialist in intelligent energy storage technology. Wärtsilä says it plans to expand its operations to become a global ‘systems integrator’ offering combinations of power generation, energy storage and demand-side management services.
Cogeneration operators have long understood the advantages and complications of variable generation patterns, for both heat and power, and the role of energy storage in making it all work. They are ahead of the energy storage game.