Renewable energy, environmentally-friendly business practices, and going green: you can nary turn on a television or open a newspaper without hearing about these types of interconnected sustainability goals. But for those looking to change the world, making sure this green revolution becomes reality and not just another buzzword is paramount.
In the early days of climate action, these ideas were less mainstream and it was the die-hard environmentalist crowds that focused on them. However, today’s landscape of the ‘green revolution’ includes a refreshingly wide spectrum of players:
The trend indicated by these data points is clear: taking action towards a sustainable future can no longer be considered niche, and treating green action as a fad is short-sighted. Rather, embracing sustainability is here to stay. And with good reason, as each year we are faced with climate change realities of greater severity and frequency: major weather storms, climate migration, financial disaster, national security concerns, and more.
Put them together and this collection of impacts spell out that it doesn’t matter what motivation is chosen because we’re seeing little remaining ‘opposition’ to embracing sustainability. Rather, the world has come to an agreement that these issues are critical, even existential, to address today and in the future.
So if we’ve reached the rare collective agreement we need sustainability now, why does it seem that the necessary actions keep getting stalled? As noted, early pushes towards green and sustainable action were driven not necessarily by a mainstream push, but rather by early and progressive advocates who recognized the importance of this shift in mentality. To embrace such revolutionary actions also required acknowledgment of where the technologies and their implementations still fell short at that time in their development. And to be clear, skeptics had certain valid arguments on their side about why a full-blown adoption of the green revolution was not yet ready for primetime:
But in many areas, these shortcomings are representative of the past, while in 2022 and beyond we’re approaching a new paradigm. Across energy systems, technology has rapidly advanced, motivations have strengthened, and previously unavailable opportunities abound.
That said, those who are pushing the green revolution still note the residual knowledge gap. More than ever, people want to embrace green and sustainable technology, but they still don’t know-how. They are confused about what the best approach for them would be, and they may even become paralyzed with the rapidly expanding choices for green action they have today and the anxiety of making suboptimal choices may stop them from acting at all.
Ask someone on the street, though, the best way they can be a part of the green revolution, and you’ll hear a wide variety of answers, but one will come up time and again: people believe they can integrate solar panels into their home as an optimal solution. Indeed, rooftop solar energy is critical and installation rates continue to climb. Current forecasts predict that the number of Americans with solar on their homes is poised to triple by the end of the decade.
This trend represents tremendous progress and should be celebrated. That said, the installation of rooftop solar panels alone is not worthy of a ‘mission accomplished’ pronouncement. This fact is especially true when the rebound effect comes into play when people may start to waste more energy because they see doing so as having a lower impact given their solar-generation systems. This reality highlights a shortcoming in knowledge that still persists, particularly as the vast majority of residential solar does not get paired with energy storage. Given the ability of residential storage to multiply the impact of residential solar, this knowledge gap actually turns into a notable efficiency and effectiveness gap. That’s where lower barrier energy storage technology, like Joule Case’s modular and interchangeable battery solutions, can make a huge difference. The implementation of energy storage, along with solar or other energy technologies, definitively represents a lynchpin that’s key to unlocking a new paradigm across energy systems for the real green revolution: the shift towards decentralized energy.
For most of our lives, existing energy systems have remained notably similar to those put into place in the days of Thomas Edison: energy is generated at centralized, large-scale power plants and then transmitted for miles and miles via the grid system to where it is ultimately consumed.
In the early days of the grid, this centralized arrangement was the only option to electrify the country, since small-scale generation technologies weren’t affordable or practical, and larger power plants were needed for the economies of scale to make electric power systems financially accessible. That said, the continued use of the centralized power generation model comes with notable inherent weaknesses that persist to this day:
But it’s 2022 and energy consumers don’t have to simply accept these shortcomings! And that shift is thanks to advancing technology allowing smaller generation sources being built closer to the point of consumption, whether via on-site generation or even just smaller solar and wind farms distributed more evenly across the grid. The shorter the distance between generation and consumption, the less the above shortcomings actually impact each end user. This pattern toward more distributed energy generation is known as Decentralization, and it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing down.
The advent of this decentralized technology is creating new opportunities in flexibility and adaptation for power systems, opportunities that naturally arrive when (for the first time) we can decouple energy consumption from where and when that energy is first generated. Energy storage is the key that makes decentralization work. Typically, that centralized energy must be generated when it’s anticipated it will be needed, but if that can instead be shifted to generating energy whenever it’s convenient to do so and then storing it until energy is most needed, greater efficiency will be achieved.
In a way, fossil fuels are an ancient form of this mobility in time and location of energy, as oil and gas are really just an energy storage tool that takes energy transferred from the sun to ancient life, which was eventually turned into fossil fuels that can then millions of years be later put into our cars and generators. We moved the energy from those ancient times until we needed them at the gas pump today. Traditionally, electricity hasn’t been open to this decoupling. The mobility and deployability of petroleum products are actually a key reason why the gas car won out over the electric car in the days of Henry Ford. But battery technology is the decentralized technology that is key to putting us in charge of this energy mobility, and instead of waiting millions of years for fossil fuels to be developed, we can control the short- or long-term needs of moving energy through time and locations.
Batteries are the go-to tool to tap into electric power on a mobile basis, which has obviously been around for a while in the form of AA batteries in consumer electronics, cell phone or laptop batteries, and the like. But those battery applications have traditionally been smaller scale and less practical for scaling up. In future grid-scale energy systems, though, energy storage is the key to unlocking decoupling for the electric power industry, and the technology is finally becoming ready for this shift (case in point: electric vehicles are biting back now!). In this way, one can think about batteries as similar in function to the barrel of oil, as unintuitive as that may first sound: Batteries allow the users to take a tangible, physical piece of energy and move it from one location at one time to where and when it’s most useful. Suddenly, the residential energy consumer is reimagined: they can become the prosumer, and with that shift, their relationship with energy is forever changed.
|“Who is a Prosumer? Prosumers are growing in the energy space as more Americans generate their own power from distributed energy resources. This is most often accomplished through rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles. Gone are the days when electricity consumption was a one-way street. Today’s electric grid is blurring the lines between power generation and consumption. “ |
- U.S. Department of Energy
According to the typical headlines, the main characters of the green revolution are renewable energy sources: offshore wind farms, rooftop solar panels, and more. However, all the renewable energy generation that money can buy will only do so much to decarbonize the grid because of the inherent flaw of most renewables: they are intermittent.
Whereas coal, gas, and even nuclear energy are dispatchable, meaning they can be called upon to generate a given amount of electricity on command (in many cases using on-site storage of fuel to ensure no interruption of supply), solar panels cannot generate at nighttime or during cloudy days, and wind turbines sit idle when the wind doesn’t blow. The ability of dispatchable fossil fuel sources to be turned on at the snap of the finger has long been an advantage with which renewable energy couldn’t compete. In the electric power industry, outages and downtime are wholly unacceptable. So if the whole grid was solely connected to solar panels and nothing else, we’d be completely dependent on the weather with no recourse for when clouds came through (not to mention night time!).
Intermittency works in the other way as well— when solar and wind energy resources are generating, that power must be transmitted somewhere immediately or it will be wasted (whether the grid had planned on that electricity availability or not). Or, at least, that’s been the modus operandi of renewables before energy storage technology became affordable and ubiquitous. Batteries have since become the lynchpin that truly unlocks renewables: allowing excess generation to be stored for later, while also allowing for renewable energy sources to power grid needs even during times when intermittency interrupts the generation.
These realities help explain why the decentralized energy revolution isn’t just about renewable generation, but rather it must come along with decentralized energy storage as well. But why is this shift to more prevalent energy storage technology happening now?
Notably, the available energy storage technology had previously been too limited, with batteries being rather expensive, inefficient, bulky, and non-versatile. Recently, though, technological advancement has allowed for new opportunities, such as the interoperability and flexibility from an innovation like Joule Case, flipping the script and making energy storage a viable option for energy consumers across the grid.
Looking holistically at these technologies, the parallel trends of renewable generation and energy storage are creating momentum towards technological convergence for users. While independent solar systems were the first to hit the residential market, it’s not becoming less and less common for homes to install solar panels without battery storage. Additionally, the advent of intelligent technologies, such as smart meters and smart thermostats, are being readily coupled into these packages as well, allowing homeowners to embrace a fully integrated smart energy system.
In fact, the availability of such battery technology has opened up a newly equitable world for everyday energy users. The people who, over the past few decades, have improved their levels of energy independence and resilience through rooftop solar have exclusively been households that were:
The practical percentage of people who could check off each of the above has always been rather small, estimated to be around 20% in the United States, with minority groups at a measurable disadvantage for the ability to deploy rooftop solar. As such, most Americans have been unable to access backup electricity when the power goes out (without the use of expensive and dirty gas generators) and relative relief from spiking utility prices like those seen during the 2021 winter storm in Texas.
However, technology is evolving, and access to modular, affordable, and flexible energy storage brings the first taste of these advantages to new households, regardless of whether they are homeowners, what direction their rooftop faces, or if they have the amount of capital on hand for a full solar system. Energy storage can allow anyone to receive power (whether from the grid, from solar panels, or elsewhere), and store it to be used where and when they need it. That functionality offers the resilience and reliability previously only afforded to those rooftop solar owners, along with a multitude of other benefits.
As noted previously, the consumer is turning into a prosumer. In many ways, the power system of today is already ‘not your parents’ energy industry,’ no less Thomas Edison’s! When energy storage solutions unlock flexibility for everyone equally, the opportunities presented include the following:
Because renewable generation is so intrinsically tied to weather, the availability of this clean energy ebbs and flows during the day. Similarly, demand varies over the course of the day. As such, grid operators will note times when energy supply greatly outpaces the need for it (e.g., mid-day when solar generation is high but energy consumption plateaus in the middle of the work day), as well as times known as ‘peak demand’ where the grid is often strained to have sufficient energy supplies to meet demand (e.g., early evening hours when solar panels are no longer generating and people are returning home from work and using energy-intensive appliances). Energy insiders recognize this as the fowl-inspired Duck Curve.
With decentralized energy storage technologies at the fingertips of consumers (or, rather, prosumers!), these wise energy stakeholders can now participate in new opportunities, such as variable pricing utility rates. Under such programs, utilities will vary their rates so that they are lower during times when supply exceeds demand, raising them to premium rates during peak demand hours. As such, these prosumers can charge their batteries during mid-day while paying low rates and then tap into those fully charged batteries to fuel the evening energy needs rather than pay the higher prices reflecting the grid strain. By planning ahead, consumers with personal decentralized energy storage can achieve new levels of resilience, energy independence, and overall reduced power bills— advantages that were previously only accessible to high-income homes that had installed solar panels.
As noted by the U.S. Department of Energy:
“Demand response provides an opportunity for consumers to play a significant role in the operation of the electric grid by reducing or shifting their electricity usage during peak periods in response to time-based rates or other forms of financial incentives.”
While time-of-use rates may be considered a type of demand response, some more common demand response programs focus instead on selectively taking demand off the grid not by a pattern of utility rates but via a system where consumers will receive alerts to decrease power consumption during unexpected demand surges or supply crunches. These alerts can be expected to come during the hottest or coldest several days of the year when air conditioning or heating are pushing the grid to its limits. As a result, users receive compensation for adjusting their temperatures by several degrees or delaying use of their energy-intensive appliances.
However, decentralized energy storage provides an alternative, where any stakeholder—home or business—can participate in demand response by adding supply to the grid during these events. When people highlight the shift to prosumer as a fundamental rethinking of our whole energy system, this application is a key and tangible example.
The affordability of decentralized energy storage also creates critical movement for the grid resilience of consumers. In many areas that experience regular grid interruptions (e.g., think Florida during hurricane season, California during public safety power shutoffs, and even the unexpected winter storm that almost took the Texas grid offline completely, consumers are accustomed to having backup generators on hand. Doing so can be expensive and cumbersome, and it requires the use of fossil fuels to run. But where power outages are unacceptable for any length of time, such backup generators have really been the only option.
With the availability of consumer-accessible battery storage, though, grid reliability is now available in a cleaner, more affordable, and more efficient way. Early adopters of energy storage, such as homeowners with the Tesla Powerwall, have started this shift, but even those batteries have natural restrictions in that you can’t take them with you if you leave home. Further, they have limited improvement options once installed, and trying to upgrade and scale-up is somewhat impractical. The true gamechanger, thus, are batteries that are fully open for users to do with as they please, to move them where the power is needed, and to add and supplement energy storage capacity. These additional capabilities are key to what Joule Case offers.
Skeptics may naturally ask: if energy storage as a decentralized energy source is so advantageous, why isn’t it everywhere? As with any innovative technology, hurdles remain that must be overcome to truly unlock the potential of decentralized energy storage.
To start, energy storage options have traditionally locked users into a single technology (that also comes with high upfront costs), creating a natural struggle. This reality also segments the consumer market between technologies. As a parallel example, hydrogen cars and electric vehicles could both make a dent in overall transportation emissions. But, the two ‘fuel’ sources are not cross-compatible, meaning the segmentation of transportation between the two risks stifling market penetration for both of them. For a sustainable technology to usher in a true revolution, interoperability and flexibility are necessary. Joule Case is the only energy storage technology on the market that factors in this forward-looking need for interoperability. Rather than going all-in on a current (e.g., lithium-ion) or next-generation (e.g., solid-state) technology, all Joule Case batteries can link up to an older generation with whatever new model comes next, interlocking seamlessly like building blocks.
Another challenge for the future of energy storage comes from the users themselves. They must understand the ‘what,’ ‘how,’ and ‘why’ to use the technology. Decentralization as a concept requires a fundamental shift in thinking about energy, which is not an easy ask. The telecommunications industry successfully navigated this challenge when implementing its own version of decentralization (cell phones). Similarly, electric vehicles are forcing a fundamental rethinking of how people plan trips. And now, these decentralized battery technologies are early in the process of compelling the everyday user and business to rethink energy. These shifts from energy storage are fundamental, adjusting a consumer’s:
The decentralization aspect of the green revolution is all about busting out of the mindset of working within the constraints of where power is, instead of shifting to look at how we can utilize power when and where we need it.
Lastly, energy storage must also contend with unfortunate misconceptions. For example, having heard issues about supply chains for battery materials or the environmental impact of mining those materials in mainstream media, people may think that leaning into batteries is just as destructive as burning fossil fuels. This idea, however, is not backed up by science. Batteries aren’t perfect, and the energy storage continues to work on the overall sustainability of the technology, but embracing batteries is not akin to trading one evil for another. Leaning into energy storage, rather, is investing in a more sustainable long-term future instead of the short-term fossil fuel alternative.
Energy storage technologies are following a similar trajectory that solar panels have taken in recent years. Costs are falling, efficiencies are improving, and it’s becoming more common to see both of these technologies installed at homes, businesses, and a myriad of other applications. Whereas solar technology was revolutionary in bringing power generation to off-grid and/or decentralized locations, batteries take this disruption a step further: they allow users to bring power accessibility wherever they need it, regardless of where, when, or how it was originally generated.
As batteries become smaller in footprint and more powerful in performance, the accessibility of energy storage is creating brand new opportunities. Especially when these batteries are built with mobility, interoperability, and intelligent digital technologies in mind, the status quo of how users interact with energy is rapidly evolving.
The following specific use cases highlight these new and changing abilities, both ones already commercially implemented today and the ones that are on the horizon in the years to come.
When moving from theoretical to practical implementation, multiple use cases today highlight the key opportunities for energy storage.
Mobile businesses rely exclusively on mobile energy. As such, they are typically small and count on a quick return on investment, with reliability and affordability of energy being paramount to their bottom line. As with households with backup generator needs, for a long time, these mobile entrepreneurs simply had to adopt gas generators, with no alternatives. Today, though, the status of these mobile businesses as some of the most considerate purchasers—due to their small size, their likelihood to be owner/operator or family-owned, and how much pride they take in their business—makes them some of the first commercial segments really leaning into the battery alternative.
A key example of these mobile businesses includes food trucks, needing reliable, consistent, and affordable energy to run their cooking and refrigeration equipment. With battery storage solutions, they can do so in a way that’s more sustainable for the environment and limits toxic emissions around their delicious food as added bonuses.
The more that everyday life requires reliable power for critical functions—everything from health to safety to food and more—the more devastating it becomes when disasters wipe out grid infrastructure and cause long-term power outages. In the light of the changing climate that’s seeing extreme weather become more common, the need to ensure emergency response can have access to power after disasters is more tangible: hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and even incidents like war zones or mass refugee events. Ensuring humanitarian aid and basic life functions for those impacted in each of these incidences requires on-demand, mobile power.
After any of these major events, first responders need dispatchable energy to run mobile response centers, repair damages, and keep societal functions running in the meantime, not to mention the power needed as construction and repairs begin the long process of rebuilding. Whereas gas generators have been a solution in these instances, their use is imperfect as they continue to rely on fossil fuel supplies to be delivered. Mobile energy storage, however, can be quickly attached to solar panels to quickly, affordably, and sustainably bring power to ground zero.
All of these critical functions are of particular importance for the most vulnerable populations: heating/cooling for the elderly in extreme conditions, keeping medicines and foods at safe temperatures, operating nursing homes and hospitals, and more. Losing power for any of these applications simply is not an option, but the grid doesn’t always cooperate. Having mobile energy storage available is a necessary solution.
Energy storage has traditionally been pitched as a great use case for those going camping, providing light and power on demand in the middle of the woods. However, not everyone camps and so the scope here is limited, but most people do have projects they want to work on at home, whether that’s yard work, carpentry, or otherwise. Mobile energy storage can unlock new possibilities in this realm. In fact, the Ford F150 Lightning Electric Pickup Truck made some buzz in the press when it highlighted its offering of an outlet that could let people plug in their power tools, run equipment at a tailgate, and even provide backup power to the house. While these abilities being tied to a vehicle make for a great commercial, in reality, they’re not all that different than what was available from the cigarette lighter of older gasoline-powered trucks. And the size of these batteries is limited, given they have to be small and light enough to fit in the vehicle while not dragging it down. That means every moment an EV battery is being used for a secondary purpose, it won’t be used for a subsequent drive (not to mention concerns with what such use will do to the lifetime of the battery, using up the limited amount of lifetime charging cycles inherent to any EV battery technology).
Instead, by designing decentralized energy storage to be used exclusively for these needs, the EVs can stay fully charged in the garage while battery technologies are ready to unlock the rest of the possibilities. The beauty of this function of mobile energy storage is also that as one’s lifestyle scales up, (e.g., from apartment to condo to house), mobile batteries can readily scale up to provide power. This interoperability and growth is the advantage that Joule Case offers, for example.
These examples provided just a few insights into high-value use cases of advanced decentralized energy storage, but the possibilities are truly endless. These mobile batteries can provide unmatched value for:
While the above use cases highlight where energy storage is being used today, the really powerful applications are still on the horizon:
For builders of solar or wind farms, regulators often require a level of energy storage to go with it. While these developers know everything about their generation assets, they may not be on top of the latest energy storage options. As a result, they tend to play it safe, going with high name recognition. But new technologies, like Joule Case, are upending that norm. Integrating advanced battery storage allows them to right-size storage to their needs, avoid overpriced technology, and minimize transmission constraint issues. Even better, doing so will allow the storage asset to be flexible, growing and moving to new applications rather than being a fixed asset over the entire life of the generation asset.
A constraint to electric vehicle adoption is in the range they offer and how long it takes to recharge the battery in the middle of a road trip. As a way to rethink this paradigm, electric vehicles that utilize partial battery switching along with battery charging (think of it like topping off the gas tank rather than recharging a battery from dead to full) provides new opportunity to get past those hurdles, bringing down recharge times without having to make a completely switchable battery.
The parts of the world that could most use the abilities of decentralized energy storage include third-world areas that don’t have readily available electricity everywhere, all the time. If these remote and developing regions pair decentralized generation (e.g., solar panels) with energy storage, the need for dirty, expensive, and unhealthy generators is eliminated and gives them more reliable power for productivity, safety, health, and improved quality of life.
Of note, situations, where the power grid isn’t accessible, may sound restricted to far-off lands to those currently living in comfortable urban environments, but even in the United States, there are plenty of places where the traditional power grid remains expensive and inaccessible.
The energy industry recognizes a need to shift the fundamental mindset about where and when power is generated and how it gets to final consumption. This evolution is about busting out of the past acceptance of working within the constraints of where power is, shifting to look at how we can utilize power when and where we need it.
Especially in today’s world that has gone through years of a pandemic, turning everything we knew upside down in its wake, society has more appetite than ever to reimagine how we can newly do things in a better way. Accepting ‘This is how things have always been done’ means less than it ever did, especially for consumers who saw their power needs not addressed during the past few years.
As people look at generators, they are opening their eyes to the downsides of how 'this has always been done’ and then seeing new possibilities in batteries. They may not deeply understand kWh or volts, but as products become more user-friendly, featuring all-in-one packages, they can rely on an off-the-shelf solution that simply works (parallel to wanting to buy an Apple PC rather than building one from the component parts: usability and user-friendliness will unlock new opportunities).
As users gain more understanding of and acceptance of battery systems, the acceptance of noisy and polluting generators will wane. Additionally, the strengthening desire to be self-reliant in the wake of continued grid interruptions will provide the drive for action.
Decentralized energy storage technology is here now. We largely thought these problems were still off on the horizon of being solved, that they would eventually live up to the hype, but rather than falling short of hype these battery technologies are available to solve these problems now… ahead of schedule! And utilizing batteries that are interoperable and self-contained is bringing the technology trends of the past to energy storage now. If you thought the past ten years were big for the presence of solar power, get ready for the coming years to be known as the Decade of Storage!