Having Your Own Power Grid

December 11, 2013
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Japan’s Hitachi corporation has unveiled an energy-storage system that the company says will support practical usage of wind and solar power and allow users to sell electricity into deregulated markets such as the one recently created in California. These units can be installed through high-voltage power lines and be adaptable enough to capture excess energy produced by both wind and solar sources, allowing it to be sold back into the network it originated from when public demand for power exceeds supply, according to Bloomberg News.

Hitachi’s homegrown system includes both telecommunication and lithium-ion battery technologies. This will, theoretically, minimize the volatility of power grid demands in the coldest days of winter and extreme Summer heat, company representatives told a December 2, 2013, press conference in Washington D.C.

power grids

Solar and wind sources are becoming ever more practical and available – although they can’t provide power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing – an ever more adaptable connection to commercial networks means the relationship between big business and the general public is transitioning into a new model. As such with more and more homes installing small-scale renewable devices, citizens become less and less dependent on traditional utilities for electricity. Utilities have been fixing and pegging the price of purchasing their power for decades. The public becomes a new player as a huge change looms in the way power is both purchased and transported.

Masaaki Nomoto, Hitachi’s general manager of transmission and distribution systems division feels that potential future customers for the technology will include anyone who wants to also be a cooperative business partner and sell power into the market, not just utilities.

“We believe that there’s no such concern about reducing the need for power from utilities,” Tatsuro Ishizuka, president of Hitachi’s power systems company, told the Wall Street Journal. Without confronting American power companies like Commonwealth Edison directly, new players like Hitachi want to compete in the U.S. with American power corporations. The system they’ve created, known as CrystEna, will provide energy to instantaneously stabilize the grid, Ishizuka predicts. CrystEna products, which use 1-megawatt lithium-ion batteries enclosed in a container, “will change the world as we know it!”

Consequently, Hitachi will begin testing the product in parts of the U.S. and Canada during the first three months of 2014, with a goal of selling it by the end of 2015, Ishizuka said.

“It’s important to help the customers continuously make income,” for the market to stabilize the grid, a process known as frequency regulation, Nomoto said.

Meanwhile, the state of California is requiring its utilities, including Edison International and PG&E, to have at least 1.3 gigawatts of storage capacity available to the public by 2020, and suppliers such as Hitachi are looking to capitalize on this new requirement. Hitachi estimates that the size of the U.S. market for devices that help stabilize the grid will be 20 gigawatts by 2020, according to Crain’s.

There is a problem, however. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that a protectionist lobby, led by the likes of Pat Buchanan and John McCain, would try to stop this encroachment by foreign businesses into the power fray. Indeed, as protectionism dominates so totally in Asia with a view toward keeping American imported goods out and unable to compete with rivals like Hitachi because of high tax rates in their country, this latest conflict may ultimately prove to be a useful tool in finally helping American businesses gain a genuine toehold in a heretofore restricted marketplace as a majority of nations slowly come to the realization that dependence upon the OPEC oil-producing nations is counter-productive to the energy welfare of the rest of the world.

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