It was probably my greatest embarrassement as a journalist. Within weeks of publishing a major feature on energy storage in Technology Review (see “Recharging the Power Grid”), the half-completed demonstration project we profiled as the start of something big — a giant battery to stabilize the power grid in eastern Mississippi — was scrapped by its developer. The corporate parent of the battery developer, Regenesys, was bought up and the new buyer simply decided to pursue different opportunities.
Disappointments such as this are a perennial risk for the technology journalist who tries to peer into the future, given the vagaries of the R&D process. In this case, however, the risk was higher than normal due to the high cost of energy storage technology and the large size of the facility. Four years later energy storage is finally going commercial as utilities exploit of batteries that are less than one-fifth the size, as my story this morning on TechReview.com and ABCNews.com attests (see “Fixing the Power Grid”).
These portable batteries will be the power grids’ rapid-response teams, ready to ship out for duty to stabilize overloaded power lines and substations. Why should we care? Commercialization of small batteries is likely to bring down the cost of such technology, enabling them to take on a more transformative role: providing the buffering grids will need if renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind farms grow to large scale. It already appears to be happening in Japan and Europe, thanks to higher energy prices and forward-looking government policies.