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About This Technology

Energy-storage technologies, which convert and store energy in devices or physical media for release at a later time, are seeing a huge wave of innovation and implementation worldwide. By serving as an intermediary between sources of energy production and end use, energy storage can address a variety of energy-management needs for centralized, distributed, portable, and micro applications. Larger-scale energy storage is gaining value as a component of more flexible grid-connected and off-grid energy-generation systems for residential, business, and utility customers—often to help integrate rising shares of intermittent renewables such as solar PV and wind energy. Storage options include conversion of excess generation into mechanical, electrical, chemical, thermal, kinetic, or potential energy forms for short or longer periods. Batteries remain the predominant power source for proliferating portable and handheld devices as well as to drive electric motors in new hybrid- and pure-electric vehicles. The development of remote-sensing and microelectromechanical systems is also creating a need for miniature energy technologies that can power micro-size devices independently or as an integral part of devices.

Many energy-storage systems are still expensive but are becoming more affordable as markets expand. Several factors—increasing proliferation of electronics with high power needs, electrification in the transport sector, a focus on electricity-grid reliability, high utility peak-power prices, rising distributed renewable-energy generation and consumption, and remote-energy-access needs—are driving global investments. The maturity level of technologies varies widely—some technologies such as pumped-storage hydropower have existed for many years, but others such as superconducting magnetic-energy storage are still in their infancy. One of the largest and fastest-growing energy-storage markets is batteries, and scientists continue to improve Li-ion and other advanced battery chemistries for use in an ever-growing range of applications. Li-ion batteries increasingly dominate markets, and their costs are dropping rapidly as manufacturing scales increase. Other energy-storage technologies are also seeing wider use, but manufacturers need to overcome cost and other barriers to help newer technologies reach their commercial potential. Regulators and markets are beginning to recognize the value that energy-storage services can provide to a range of customers, and regulatory changes are encouraging the use of energy storage in a growing number of areas. In addition, many new and established companies are introducing new business models and performance improvements that are helping to drive down costs.

The energy-storage sector can help developed and developing countries meet increasingly complex energy needs as well as urgent energy-security and climate-change goals. Predicting how fast the industry will grow and which new technologies and players will succeed is difficult, in part because of market challenges and complexities. Opportunities exist for a broad range of materials, component, and system suppliers, although competition will be fierce in some sectors. At stake are multi-billion-dollar global markets that bridge stationary, transportation, and portable-power applications and offer huge prospects for growth.