Canadian Consulting Engineer

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Put batteries in your buildings

An article in Scientific American extols the use of "cheap, multi-hour energy storage" units to provide power on demand as an answer to our energy needs.


An article in Scientific American extols the use of “cheap, multi-hour energy storage” units to provide power on demand as an answer to our energy needs.

The article, “Bright Lights, Big City – Big Battery” by Martin LaMonica was published online on June 6.

The author points out that batteries can convert power from intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar into a constant source similar to fuel or nuclear plant power sources.

And, notes LaMonica, the power from the battery is sourced locally rather than having to be transmitted from large centralized plants from a distance.

He describes one 58-storey luxury apartment building known as Barclay Tower in Lower Manhattan which has added a 2-MW-hour battery in its basement. The equipment resembles “a few rows of commercial refrigerators.” The building owner, Glenwood Management, is “a convert” and plans to install similar systems at three other commercial buildings.

Also the City University of New York is set to pilot a 200 kilowatt-hour zinc-nickel oxide rechargeable battery, made by Urban Electric Power. And InterContinental Hotels in San Francisco have drastically reduced peak power demand using a refrigerator size battery lithium ion battery made by Stem at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, cutting peak demand by 20 per cent. The engineering and energy manager of the hotel chain plans to install larger batteries in 16 other hotels in the state, saving an estimated $2.2 million over 10 years.

LaMonica says the batteries don’t have to be super high-tech. The innovation comes from the “Big Data for the Big City Strategy” or “energy cloud” approach.

“Modern energy storage systems are plugged into the internet and a cloud-based analysis of energy demand can decide the best times to store energy or power a portion of the building.” he writes and then quotes Shane Johnson of Demand Energy: “What we’re enabling the customer to do is essentially build their own power plant and move from being a passive user to controlling how and when they use energy.” Johnson’s company believes that large energy-users could get a return on their investment in about five years.

To read the article in Scientific American, click here.