American Electric Power to Try Backyard Energy Storage

| About: American Electric (AEP)

By Michael Kanellos

American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) later this year will put electrical storage units in the backyard of some customers that will be used during to provide power to local homes.

The units will be capable of providing power to about four to six homes, according to Ali Nourai, who manages distributed energy sources, for AEP at the MIT Energy Conference, reports Martin LaMonica at CNET. The power could be used during regular hours or during the peak periods in the afternoon. AEP has a lot of customers in the Midwest and South, where air conditioners on hot days increase the odds of brown and blackouts. Some traditional gas peaker plants are only used 15 or so days a year–storage could essentially eliminate the need to run these things.

“Aggregated, hundreds of these units controlled (by AEP)…effectively do the same as one big storage unit,” Nourai said. “It’s closer to the load, and it has the potential to (create) competition on price.”

Energy storage is the latest obsession of the day among VCs, investors, entrepreneurs and utilities. Storage can make wind and solar more economical and at the same time more grid-friendly by making it possible to sell and/or deliver the power harvested by the environment at any time of the day.

Unfortunately, nothing has gone big time yet. Technological hurdles need to be crossed and the cost on some of these items remains high. Some of the leading ideas: flow batteries, compressed air storage, industrial sized hydrogen fuel cells, methanol fuel cells, solid oxide fuel cells, pumped hydro, sodium batteries. That is for persistent energy storage. For temporary storage for balancing the grid, check out ultracapacitors, flywheels, and lithium ion batteries.

AEP has been experimenting with sodium batteries for power storage for the past few years at some sites. Sodium batteries, however, are more appropriate at utility controlled sites. They only operate well at 285 Celsius and higher. It isn’t clear what AEP will use in the backyard trials.

Also at the conference, Lars Josefsson from Vattenfall, Sweden’s mongo-sized utility, discussed carbon reduction plans.