One of the things I like most about my friends at Eos Energy Storage is the cleverness and sense of humor of their writing. In their website’s piece about the need for storage on our grid, they quip, “Sushi has better storage.” I.e., even though the electricity market is the single largest supply chain on the planet, it is the only supply chain in the world that has almost no storage at all.
Every commodity in the world—oil, gas, coal, grain, manufactured goods, textiles, everything—has storage to enhance the efficiency of the supply chain. Even sushi, which like electricity basically needs to be consumed as soon as it is produced, has storage in its supply chain. Imagine how difficult it would be to get good Japanese food if there had to be a handy fisherman standing by to jump in a boat and catch a tuna every time we ordered maguro sushi.
Yet that is how we run our electricity grid. As a result, the grid is massively overbuilt to accommodate the few hours each year that we reach peak demand. In the US, 25% of all distribution assets and 10% of all transmission and generation capacity is used less than 400 hours each year.
That’s sure something to think about as we continue our discussions on smart-grid. Sure we can use advanced IT to create better efficiencies in the way we generate, transmit, and distribute electricity. And yes, the two-way flow of information to and from the consumer is an even greater potential benefit from smart-grid. But as long as we need to consume the electricity we’re generating that very moment, we’re doomed to this hopeless overbuilt and super-expensive infrastructure.