Two views on the future of the electric grid
RenewEconomy, Giles Parkinson, April 25, 2014
In Australia’s remote and distant outback, the development of micro- and mini-grids based on solar and battery storage seems a logical step to take, even an economically viable one. But the bigger question for network operators around the world is whether customers in more populated areas will eventually look to adopt similar measures.
At what point, for instance, will the ability of homeowners to buy the necessary equipment for power generation from their local home-improvement store challenge the future viability of the networks?
And at what point will it become possible for communities to pool resources and decide that it will be cheaper to look after their own electricity needs rather than stay on the grid? According to some groups, that point may not be so far away.
There are two technologies that will make this possible. The proliferation of rooftop solar is well documented, as is its continued cost decline. The second key element is battery storage.
As analysts at investment bank Bernstein noted in a recent report, the easiest way to dismiss battery storage (and, by implication, distributed solar) has been to observe that efficient, low-cost energy storage is least two years in the future — and to believe that it always will be.
But as the experience with solar PV has shown, this can change with the combination of capital, scale and motivation. Whether it be the mandated 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage in California, the 170,000 plug-in vehicles now operating in the U.S., Tesla’s planned gigawatt-scale battery plant, or the pull factor of frustrated consumers, the scale, the capital, and the motivation are now beginning to appear.
That will not only empower households and businesses (in both literal and a figurative sense), but it will also remove the ability of distribution companies and retailers to dictate terms — and tariffs — once the sun goes down.