Energy Storage: New Technologies and Forecasts

By Keshav Ahuja

Energy storage is one of the most discussed topics today and is expected to be a key component of the global energy transition and stabilizing the grid for Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. Over the last decade, energy storage technologies have continued to evolve, adapt, and innovate in response to changing energy requirements and regulatory policies.

Energy storage technologies are broadly categorized into four segments: electrical, thermal, mechanical, and electrochemical storage. Though electrochemical (batteries) and mechanical (hydrogen/pumped hydropower) storage remain the most common forms of energy adoption, research on alternate storage technologies offering higher power capacities, faster charging rates, or greater cost effectiveness is rapidly ongoing.

New Innovations in Storage

Technologies that have gained traction in recent years include compressed-air energy storage, gravity storage, aqueous-air battery, flow battery, and prismatic battery. Furthermore, there is ongoing research to develop new materials that can significantly improve battery efficiencies and support higher charging cycles, such as super-capacitors. Although pumped hydro storage accounts for the majority of installed global energy storage capacity, lithium-ion based storage is expected to record the highest growth rates, with almost all new upcoming storage capacities slated to adopt the technology.

A wide range of technologies are available for energy storage systems, with varying approaches to manage power supply and build a resilient energy infrastructure.

Mind the Gap

The challenge is that each solution comes with its own set of pros and cons. However, the core issue remains: can energy storage enhance grid flexibility, provide economies of scale in transmission and distribution, and offer better power quality and cost savings to customers? This requires a system-wide study to understand needs, applications, economics, and solution potentials. There are also suites of solutions to improve overall grid flexibility, such as demand response, power plant retrofits, smart-grid measures, and advanced energy management systems. These options need to be weighed against the case for implementing energy storage solutions and require a holistic approach to understand high-level market dynamics that can improve energy access and infrastructure.

Grid Stabilization with Renewables

As the world moves towards a decentralized model, it is expected that existing solar PV systems will be retrofit with energy storage capacity, while new solar PV will be increasingly paired with a storage system during the installation process. While this may not always be cost-effective for the grid, co‑siting renewables and storage assets would ensure grid stability during peak demand periods. Adoption of innovative business models and multiple revenue streams, such as virtual power plant solutions, are expected to offset storage charges and will become increasingly important in decentralized energy markets.

The Role of EV Adoption and the Grid

EVs will also play an important role in the future of energy storage as the EV battery market is significantly larger than grid-scale batteries. Vehicle-to-grid charging, which allows charged power to be pushed back to the grid from car batteries to balance variations in energy production and consumption, is also gaining traction. As the number of EVs are expected to grow significantly by 2030, this will account for a large aggregated storage capacity, capable of providing grid stability at peak demand hours. The effects of innovation and reductions in the cost of mobility in the EV battery market may spill-over and boost the grid-scale industry significantly.

The Path Forward, Stay Tuned

New energy storage installation fell for the first time since nearly a decade in 2019 due to wavering policy support and uncertainties regarding battery safety in key markets such as Korea, China, US, and Germany. The COVID-19 crisis is also likely to compound these effects as battery production has a particularly complex supply chain, which will be severely impacted as production is halted. However, the medium to long term future of utility-scale and behind-the-meter storage systems look bright, and are increasingly being used across the globe to provide necessary stability to the national power grids as the influx of DERS continues to grow.

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