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Moniz's Interest in Energy Efficiency May Favor Electricity Storage

energy efficiency and storageOn Tuesday of this week, President Obama nominated MIT physicist Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy to replace outgoing Secretary Steven Chu.  Dr. Moniz has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1973 and currently directs MIT’s Energy Initiative, which works across the school’s disciplines to research and address energy issues.  He served as associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1995 to 1997 and spent the next four years as under-secretary of energy in the DOE.

By most accounts, Dr. Moniz is a strong supporter of President Obama’s “all of the above” approach to energy policy.  He is on record as supporting nuclear power, hydraulic fracking and continued research on carbon sequestration.  In interviews this week, however, he went out of his way to highlight his interest in energy efficiency.  “The most important thing is lowering your use of energy in ways that actually save you money,” he told the Washington Post. “It sounds trivial, but putting out lights really does matter.”  Dr. Moniz’s statement seems to echo the President’s call in his State of the Union address to double energy efficiency by 2030.

If energy efficiency is going to be a top priority of the Administration over the next four years, electricity storage technology should be able to benefit—provided that storage advocates educate policy makers about what it really means to be energy efficient. 

Of course, energy efficiency, in the context of the grid, does not really mean using less electricity.  Dr. Moniz’s statement about putting out the lights is an oversimplification.  Because of the extra emissions generated by cycling thermal plants and additional infrastructure needed to service peak loads, simply reducing electricity usage at non-peak times will do little to enhance true energy efficiency.  Efficiency is not really just about putting out lights.

One of the most effective ways to achieve true energy efficiency on the grid is to reduce the difference between peak and non-peak loads on the system.  By doing so, a grid operator can reduce emissions and infrastructure while at the same time actually increasing the amount of electricity available to do useful work for consumers and industry.

Electricity storage will be a key component of any initiative to increase the true energy efficiency of the grid.  But to take advantage of a new DOE push for energy efficiency, storage advocates must get the message out:  Energy efficiency is not about using less energy; it is about using the energy we have more efficiently.  And that is precisely what electricity storage does.  If we can get that message out, the next few years should be very good for electricity storage.

James Greenberger's picture

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John Miller's picture
John Miller on Mar 10, 2013 3:34 am GMT

The value of power storage goes beyond just more efficiently managing routine daily peak vs. non-peak power demand and consumption.  Another growing inefficiency is caused by the increased penetration of variable wind and solar power supplies.  Not only do these renewable power sources require essentially 100% natural gas peaking power backup, but the variable wind/solar power generation also increases the inefficient operation of the natural gas peaking power backup supply.  Reduced natural gas peaking power operations efficiency is caused by increasing the frequency of required ramping up and down of backup power supplies almost randomly over any 24 hours per day period due to variable wind & solar, and as needed to continuously maintain power grid balances-stabilities.  By developing new power storage technologies to replace or supplement existing hydropower pumped storage (currently the only existing Industrial scale power storage technology available), the local and overall power grid systems inefficiencies can be reduced substantially as wind/solar continues to expand.

Development of future wind/solar should be paralleled or ideally superseded by new power storage technology developments.  Let’s hope the future DOE Secretary fully understands these technical factors and adjusts his Agency’s R&D support and funding priorities accordingly.

Roger Faulkner's picture
Roger Faulkner on Mar 26, 2013 2:15 pm GMT

One should consider large dispatchable loads as an alternative to energy storage. Such loads include notably chlor-alkali plants and cryogenic oxygen plants especially, but also somewhat aluminum smelters (which cannot be completely shut off, but which are capable of being "throttled" by about 10%). If one builds twice as much liquid oxygen capacity as is needed for a large industrial demand (such as a steel mill or a gasifier, for example), then the oxygen plant can run only off peak. Unlike energy storage, there is no "round trip penalty" for using excess capacity to balance loads in thiis way.

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