Anyone living in the 21st century knows what a battery is. If you’re a scientist, you might have a technical definition involving electron flows and redox reactions, but the layperson’s understanding of batteries as mobile power sources for their electronic devices is certainly correct. Battery energy storage systems, by comparison, are a somewhat niche topic. These systems will play a critical role in building the robust, reliable, renewable energy grids of the future. But what exactly is this technology?
What are battery energy storage systems (BESS)?
Battery energy storage systems, or BESS, are an electrical grid component consisting of one or more batteries. Like a reservoir that draws water from multiple rivers, battery energy storage systems are capable of storing and discharging energy from different sources. BESS technology was developed as a solution to the reliability and performance challenges that renewable power generation sources present for power grids.
Recognizing the role that power generation technologies like coal plants play in causing climate change, utilities are increasingly turning to renewable sources like wind and solar to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While these green technologies don’t produce greenhouse gas emissions, they lack the reliability of carbon-heavy legacy technologies. By collecting and storing large amounts of energy from disparate sources until it’s needed, BESS technology is a critical component of a robust renewables-based power grid.
Types of battery energy storage systems
In principle, BESS can make use of any energy storage technology. In practice, most systems use lithium-ion batteries, although liquid-based sodium-sulfur, zinc bromine, iron air, lead acid, vanadium flow, and nickel hydrogen systems also exist.
An established technology, lithium-ion is preferred in most BESS applications for its efficiency and energy density, although those in the energy storage community are increasingly sounding off about the downsides to lithium-ion batteries. These include volatility in the price of lithium, environmental pollution stemming from improper disposal of toxic chemicals involved in producing lithium, and lithium-ion’s notorious flammability. For these and other reasons, many BESS designers and operators await the arrival of next-gen energy storage solutions with great anticipation.
BESS practices: Applications of battery energy storage systems
The primary application of BESS technology is in public power grids, where its capacity to store and dispense energy when needed makes BESS an important part of the global shift away from fossil fuels. But smaller BESS options have applications in residential, commercial, and industrial contexts as well.
Homeowners with solar panels may wish to install BESS with capacities in the range of 5–40 kWh to store the energy their panels collect for future use. This may be particularly attractive for those pursuing an off-the-grid lifestyle.
In commercial and industrial contexts like manufacturing or cloud data storage, where a reliable energy source is critical, BESS can also help reduce the risk of business difficulties stemming from potential power interruptions. Well-documented cases of rolling blackouts brought on by extreme weather in recent years have weakened many customers’ confidence that utility companies can provide uninterrupted electricity. Business owners who prefer to take the situation into their own hands may consider investing in BESS.
The benefits of BESS
The primary benefits of BESS are improved energy efficiency, increased cost savings, reduced environmental pollution, and better reliability and resilience.
- Energy efficiency: Renewable energy generation is only possible under certain conditions. To generate wind power, there must be wind, and solar power can only be generated in the daytime. Conversely, the energy supplied by these sources can often outpace demand. In a traditional grid, this excess energy goes to waste or generation is curtailed. BESS solutions allow this excess energy to be captured and stored, increasing the efficiency with which the electrical grid generates power.
- Cost savings: For the same reason that battery energy storage systems increase efficiency, BESS also provide operational cost savings even when considering the capital to build the systems. BESS technology allows electrical grids that combine a mix of renewable and legacy power generation technologies to use more free renewable energy and spend less on generating power from fossil fuels.
- Environmental benefits: By reducing electric grids’ reliance on fossil fuels, BESS technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning coal and other fossil fuels. It can also reduce the pollution, environmental contamination, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with extracting and transporting those same fossil fuels.
- Reliability and resilience: Modern business, commerce, entertainment, and simple day-to-day life relies on electricity, making a dependable source of energy for homes and businesses indispensable. Serious challenges, including multiple major economic and political crises, have emerged in recent years as grids start to shift away from fossil fuels to renewables. BESS technology helps electrical grids that rely on inconsistent renewable sources to accommodate major spikes in demand, such as during heat waves. Additionally, by allowing grids to rely more on renewables, consumers are more insulated from price volatility in energy markets such as the natural gas market.
The future of battery energy storage systems
The future of BESS is tied to the future of battery storage more generally. Currently, most energy storage applications rely on lithium-ion solutions. While the development of lithium-ion energy storage solutions was a breakthrough at the time, the global reliance on this technology for everything from electric vehicles to consumer electronics to BESS has laid bare serious issues, including cost, safety, toxicity, and geopolitical risks.
Forthcoming next-gen battery technologies will revolutionize BESS technology and battery storage overall with lower manufacturing costs, better safety, and non-toxicity. At Alsym, our team of battery storage veterans and innovators has been hard at work developing the next generation of battery storage technology for over eight years. Contact us today to learn more about our disruptive low-cost and high-performance battery chemistry, as well as our platform approach that minimizes supply chain stresses.