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A Tesla Powerwall unit.
Hannah Peters

There are two basic sources of small-scale storage: stand-alone batteries and electric vehicles. If they are used to enable more reliance on renewables, there will be substantial climate benefits.

Distributed Energy Storage

Standalone batteries and electric vehicles store energy. They can enable 24/7 electricity supply even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. 

Impact

Distributed energy storage is an essential enabling technology for many solutions. Microgrids, net zero buildings, grid flexibility, and rooftop solar all depend on or are amplified by the use of dispersed storage systems, which facilitate uptake of renewable energy and avert the expansion of coal, oil, and gas electricity generation. Adoption of distributed storage is different for urban and rural settings. The greenhouse gas and financial impacts of the Distributed Energy Storage solution are accounted for by other drawdown solutions, so we don’t quantify them here.

Introduction

Project Drawdown’s Distributed Energy Storage solution involves the use of decentralized energy storage systems. There are two basic sources of small-scale storage: stand-alone batteries and electric vehicles. This solution replaces the conventional practice of obtaining all electricity from a centralized grid.

Distributed energy storage is a powerful tool for the energy system, particularly as we transition to renewable energy sources. It can ease the adoption of renewable energy by smoothing out timing differences between supply and demand. It can allow residential and commercial buildings to act as active participants in the electricity distribution system and to store energy, enhancing our ability to use clean energy sources. It can allow consumers to use electricity at times and rates of their choosing, avoiding steep charges for consumption at peak times or when demand spikes. When combined with distributed generation resources such as rooftop solar, distributed energy storage can open a path to energy independence for buildings. Finally, distributed energy storage is a crucial part of modernizing the energy system at large, through providing smart grid and related services. ​​If it is used to enable more reliance on renewables, there will be substantial climate benefits.

Currently, distributed energy storage is practiced only on a very small scale. The systems are generally based on batteries, which are expensive. Moreover, policy incentives, such as time-of-use electricity pricing, are lacking in many areas. This has recently begun to shift, however, as battery prices drop and utilities seek to avoid costly infrastructure upgrades in the face of rising demand. Increased use of distributed generation has also provided incentive to use distributed energy storage. Distributed storage is poised to become a major element of the energy system.

Methodology

This solution is key for integrating variable renewable generation sources in the electricity grid. To avoid double counting, we account for the emissions impact of distributed energy storage in the variable renewable electricity generation solutions such as Micro Wind Turbines and Distributed Solar Photovoltaics, and in the Electric Cars solution.

Discussion

Distributed energy storage is likely to become more common in the coming years and financially beneficial to consumers in the long term. It should play an important role in increasing the independence of energy consumers, helping to balance electricity supply and demand, and enhancing the reliability of electrical energy services. We expect adoption to increase greatly in the coming years, making distributed energy storage an important part of the changing energy landscape.

Due to inefficiencies in energy storage and high carbon dioxide emissions associated with battery manufacturing, increased use of distributed energy storage might not reduce emissions when considered in isolation. When considered alongside the increased use of renewable energy to generate electricity, however, the impacts may prove more favorable. The emissions avoided from diesel and gasoline more than balance the emissions resulting from the manufacturing of batteries. As such, electric vehicles used as distributed energy storage can provide a significant climate benefit. Developing infrastructure and policy frameworks to promote adoption of vehicle-to-grid storage is therefore crucial as electric vehicle penetration increases.