One of the biggest concerns with many forms of renewable energy is their inability to store active energy during times when the sun isn’t out, or when the wind isn’t blowing.  With these energies gaining popularity and growing at an impressive rate, it seems as though establishing an efficient form of energy storage is a foregone conclusion for the future.

Pike Research, part of the Navigant’s Energy Practice, agrees.

A study released by the research team last week projects that long-duration energy storage is expected to grow exponentially in the next 9 years; from trace amounts of value in 2012 to nearly $30 billion by 2022.  The graph below was shared by Pike in its executive summary, showing that the greatest amounts of new storage capacity will occur in North America, followed by Europe and Asia Pacific.

energy storageSource: http://www.navigantresearch.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/ESG-12-Executive-Summary.pdf

The study deals strictly with long-duration storage, otherwise known as bulk energy storage on the grid (ESG).  The five key elements Pike identified for large-scale implementation from now until 2022 include grid asset optimization, wind integration, solar integration, arbitrage, and the deferral of new transmission and distribution capacity additions.

Senior Pike Research Analyst Anissa Dehamna spoke briefly about the potential of energy storage capabilities that exist today and how they will influence the industry in the years ahead:

Newer and emerging energy storage technologies – such as next-generation compressed air energy storage and pumped storage, as well as advanced batteries – are changing the energy storage space with innovations in efficiency, footprint, materials science, and system flexibility.  These innovations will help enable grid operators to optimize grid assets, defer transmission and distribution upgrades, and integrate renewable energy sources.

The full version of the report is behind a paywall, but the executive summary is available for free here.

A great example of the technology Dehamna is referring to stems from the concept of supercapacitors; a combination of the high-quantity storage capacities of a battery and the speedy charges of a capacitor (up to 100 to 1000 times faster than a typical battery).  The concept of supercapacitors is not new, but making them affordable, non-toxic and receiving the funding to develop them has remained a considerable stumbling block.

Until recently, that is.

CleanTechnica published an article last week about a particular supercapacitor that they believe could revolutionize the energy sector.  It’s called a graphene micro supercapacitor.  UCLA professor Richard Kaner and grad student Maher El-Kady used graphene, a carbon-based, readily-available, inexpensive, flexible surface to create a supercapacitor that Kaner believes could change the way we function through our day.

He explains the concept by referencing a smart phone, “[i]f you think about all the electronic devices you have right now, every time you need one, you realize ‘oh, I forgot to charge it up.’  But imagine if you could take that same device, plug it in the wall for 30 seconds or a minute and be ready to go.  Life would be very different.”

Their goal is to implement something like this on a larger scale, such as going to a charging station and only taking a minute to entirely re-charge your electric vehicle, or by saving mass quantities of energy through a solar panel or wind turbine to collect enough energy to maintain power throughout the day.

These advances make a far-fetched concept like quick-charging electric vehicles seem not only reasonable, but realistic in a very short period of time.  With enough outcry from the public, and enough funding for mass production, $30 billion in annual market value nine years from now through projects like graphene supercapacitors seems very feasible for the energy storage sector.