My recent snark regarding a recent Atlantic article aside, there clearly is a growing market for electric storage both on the utility and customer side, certainly in California and likely in other high-cost markets as well.
Utilities and independent power generators are looking at storage to help balance the relatively volatile production from wind and solar plants, which because of regulatory rulings have upended the traditional loading order in some states. (The solar and wind power must be taken first, and traditional base-load plants are now expected to meet shifting demands.)
And utilities can implement storage to solve localized capacity shortfalls or peaking problems - right down at the distribution circuit level - helping to avoid capital investments that won't generate financial recovery through rates.
Customers will be brought along for the ride too. Rates will increasingly reflect the cost to serve, including punishingly high peak pricing. And if customers want to take on the onus of mitigating their peak loads through storage, they should be offered an equivalent "subsidy" that is comparable to what the utilities would otherwise have had to invest to meet that load.
As always, I want to trace this all back to data centers, which have the great advantage of an unerringly predictable load. Most data centers, whether a legacy facility or a new, highly efficient design, have load factors of slightly less than 100%. I know what the peak demand will be, because it's the same any hour of the year.
So, could data center operators play the energy storage game? Of course they could, maybe even using the banks and banks of batteries they already have on site in their UPS rooms. Except...
...that most UPS banks are sized to take a data center through a power outage only long enough to get the generators started and synced in. That's usually five minutes or less, so the UPS capacity really isn't enough to warrant a storage scheme.
That, and data center operators are not about to discharge their UPS systems, making them vulnerable to down time in the event of an outage, to avoid peak power charges.
Finally, any data center that is a megawatt or larger is getting industrial utility rates (the lowest rates that utilities offer), so avoiding the peak power charges would be the least economically viable of any class of customers. (The customer-side storage companies should look to medium-size commercial customers for the best returns.)
So, my best and brightest take away is that the UPS companies have an opportunity to modify their products for the customer-side storage market. (Perhaps lead-acid battery systems could beat the lithium ion equipment that is getting all of the press right now.)
I'll accept a one-tenth of one percent commission for the idea!