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3 things we learned about energy storage

Our energy system is in the midst of major change. Fossil fuels aren’t the solo star, as renewables are rising. Central power stations aren’t the only way, as energy sources become more dispersed.

Another change? Energy storage. Last week’s Frontiers in the Environment event featured lightning talks by four energy experts in a panel led by Ellen Anderson, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab.

The four speakers were Brian Burandt, vice president of power supply and business development at Connexus Energy; Ron Nelson, an economist and ratepayer advocate with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office; Ned Mohan, a professor of professor of electrical and computer engineering at the U; and Don Fosnacht, associate director of the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Is energy storage a game-changer? Many of the speakers said yes. Here are three things we learned:

  1. Energy storage, done right, can curb waste. Each year in the mid-continent electric grid, of which Minnesota is a part, $50 million worth of wind-generated electricity is essentially thrown away. Why? Because it’s available at times of day when people aren’t using much electricity. If that energy can be stored, however, then it’s ready for the next demand peak.
  1. It’s getting cheaper to do. Anderson said that energy storage costs are dropping big time, and experts expect costs to continue to decline. If that prediction holds, then energy storage will check off the “economically viable” box — one step toward wider adoption.
  1. Opportunities exist in Minnesota. Fosnacht discussed work he’s involved in looking at energy storage in Minnesota. Two technologies seem most promising: Compressed air energy storage (CAES) and pumped hydro energy storage (PHES). Research have identified 10 places in the Iron Range as good candidates for a storage plant. “Minnesota actually has all the right features to take advantage of these type of technologies,” Fosnacht said.

If you want to know more or to dig into the details, check out the full recording of the energy-storage Frontiers program.

Frontiers returns to the St. Paul campus next week with a panel discussion on communicating science in a post-truth world, featuring Kate Knuth, director of IonE’s Boreas Leadership Program; Lewis Gilbert, IonE’s managing director; Gayle Golden of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science reporter, FiveThirtyEight; and our moderator, Todd Reubold, IonE communications director.

The free event runs 12:00–12:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, at the Institute on the Environment in the LES building (R-380).

Communications Assistant


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