THIS SOUNDS COOL:
Batteries have long been vital to laptops and cellphones. They are increasingly supplying electricity to an unlikely recipient: the power grid itself.
Until recently, large amounts of electricity could not be efficiently stored. Thus, when you turn on the living-room light, power is instantly drawn from a generator.
A new type of a room-size battery, however, may be poised to store energy for the nation’s vast electric grid almost as easily as a reservoir stockpiles water, transforming the way power is delivered to homes and businesses. Compared with other utility-scale batteries plagued by limited life spans or unwieldy bulk, the sodium-sulfur battery is compact, long-lasting and efficient.
Using so-called NaS batteries, utilities could defer for years, and possibly even avoid, construction of new transmission lines, substations and power plants, says analyst Stow Walker of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. They make wind power â€” wildly popular but frustratingly intermittent â€” a more reliable resource. And they provide backup power in case of outages, such as the one that hit New York City last week.
Better batteries are very high on my list of important technologies for the 21st century.
UPDATE: A few readers send condescending emails explaining that batteries only store power, they don’t produce it, and hence can’t substitute for generating plants. Less condescension is in order. In fact, at the margin batteries can substitute for new generating plants, by providing a way to, yes, store power generated in periods of slack loads, and using that power, instead of power from generating plants, to cover peaks load periods — just as pumped-storage plants do now. What’s news is the idea of being able to do this, even in a small way, with batteries.