As a whole, the energy industry is undergoing an undeniable renaissance. Stakeholders across the sector have embraced priorities to introduce clean energy, new digital technologies that allow for smarter grids, and clever new programs to help customers save energy and thus money.
For the most part, though, these advancements have kept the control and discretion to the power providers. Sure, sometimes the utilities use these tools to bring benefits to customers, but those end users remain restricted to only engaging with what their utilities offer, simply choosing whether or not to opt in. But they don’t have complete freedom and agency.
This dynamic has long made sense for the energy industry, as the utilities are the ones with the expensive equipment and large-scale systems, so they write the rules. Even with solar panels bringing power generation to more and more households, the truth is that 80% of households do not have solar access because of costs, requirements for home ownership, and more.
For these reasons, one of the most transformative technologies coming along to the energy market for everyday households is energy storage. Energy storage, specifically in the form of batteries, has seen efficiencies increase, technologies improve, and prices drop. So, while the concept of a battery is not new to anyone who’s ever had to replace the AA batteries in the TV remote, the transformative grid-accessible batteries of today and tomorrow are not the batteries we all grew up on.
Broadly speaking, energy storage technology is exactly what one would think: any technology that takes energy and harnesses it to be utilized at a different time and/or location. As noted, energy storage is not a new concept, including large-scale solutions such as hydropower dams that trap the energy of water motion/pressure only to release it from the via water flow at desired times.
Some creative forms of energy storage find other ways to tap into this concept, like gravity batteries that use energy to lift heavy objects and convert that work into potential energy to be released when needed. But typically, from a power and grid perspective, energy storage refers to battery technologies that store electricity. A fundamental disadvantage of electricity compared with oil and petroleum fuels, for example, is that electricity is instantaneous: it either needs to be used or stored immediately or it’s lost, whereas gasoline can be stored in a barrel or a gas can until it’s needed for fuel.
Batteries, though, unlock the potential of electricity. While any battery technology comes with inherent inefficiency due to a portion of the electricity being ‘spent’ in order to transfer it to and from the battery, the ability to decouple electricity consumption from the time and place of sourcing opens up new possibilities.
As noted, most people inherently understand small-scale batteries: from disposable batteries to cell phone or laptop batteries to car batteries and more, these energy storage technologies have largely been integral to modern, everyday life. More and more, though, energy storage technologies have improved in cost, efficiency, and performance—to the tune of an 85% decline in prices during the 2010s-- such that new use cases have become available. Notably, utility-scale batteries have become critical to modernizing the grid and their implementation is only accelerating: Joule Case has already seen newfound implementation of its battery projects for mobile entrepreneurs, on construction sites, and other large-scale operations.
But the story doesn’t stop at major utility-scale batteries, and the story gets really interesting when moving to the residential sector. Just as falling photovoltaic panel prices have started to make solar systems more accessible to households and not restricted to just major installations, the same trend has been happening to battery technologies.
Initially, these batteries were restricted to solar battery backup systems for homes, with homeowners unable to utilize them how and where they wanted but rather restricted to what the solar system allowed. But the modern homeowner now has more options than just the one battery system that their solar installer uses. Batteries are accessible, affordable, even mobile. These batteries can be charged via the home and then taken wherever they want where access to power can make things better. Specifically, the type of mobile, modular batteries like the ones from Joule Case really add in the ability to not be tied to existing times and locations of power availability.
A key question though, is can these new batteries be useful and practical or will they be restricted to a simple novelty? For example, solar phone chargers sounded useful, but most people end up leaving these solar chargers in the junk drawer, a trend that can tend to happen with energy technologies. But residential, mobile energy storage opens use cases where the technologies are more practical, useful, and beneficial than any alternatives.
Among the most notable motivators for energy storage technology to reach the residential level is the need for backup electricity for the home. Despite the modernizing intelligent grid, interruptions in power supply are still growing thanks to increased prevalence of hurricanes, wildfires, failing grid equipment, and even power demand outpacing supply during peak events. Customers across the United States are tired of such interruptions, which are not only inconvenient but can be downright dangerous when power is necessary to keep food or medicine at safe temperatures, ensure vulnerable populations aren’t exposed to extreme heat or cold, and more.
The traditional solution for power backup for home has long been home backup generators, small appliances that run on diesel fuel or gasoline. But increasingly the downsides of these generators are impossible to ignore, including:
When backup generators for a house were the only available solution, people would simply accept these downsides. But battery technology has advanced such that backup power can be provided affordably, cleanly, quietly, and without needing to source fuel. Batteries can simply be kept charged ahead of any unexpected event, and in doing so these prepared households don’t have to worry about outages taking their energy use offline. They can plug their power needs right into the batteries, or they can even connect those batteries to their homes to provide power as solar panels would.
While providing suitable backup power may be the main motivator behind someone investing in residential energy storage technology, a concurrent benefit that could pay for the batteries themselves comes from using the energy storage as a vehicle for micro-arbitrage with the grid.
The rise of solar energy has created a world known as ‘prosumers’ – utility customers who can generate their own energy. These prosumers are then able to tap into the rise and fall of energy prices for their financial benefit. Even without solar panels, though, a home that has battery capacity can take advantage by charging the battery when energy prices are the lowest (e.g., mid-day, when solar generation is the highest but demand, is moderate) and then selling that energy back to the grid during peak demand (e.g., once the sun goes down so solar resources aren’t available to meet peak demand). In doing so, the customer can get paid by the utility in states where net metering laws allow for this two-way exchange, including California, New York, Virginia, Illinois, and about a dozen more.
Micro-arbitrage: Energy arbitrage is defined as “the time-shifting of energy to make money from buying low and selling high.” This opportunity is typically utilized by large batteries owned by grid operators, but the availability of residential batteries and net metering policies means that astute homes can participate in this arbitrage on a ‘micro’ level.
Utilities may even provide additional programs in which battery owners can participate: demand response programs from power providers pay customers to reduce their energy use during predesignated times or emergency on-demand energy events. Using home battery backup power allows homeowners to then readily cut off their energy consumption from the grid without actually having to stop using energy.
Even better, these prosumer opportunities were previously only available to homeowners, but mobile batteries means that everyone from condo owners to renters of apartments can utilize this ability. These households can take this capability from one home to the next and can also scale up with additional batteries as their footprints grow.
Outside of interactions with the power grid, battery technologies can also unlock new and practical benefits of ubiquitous electricity. Where previously working on the house or on the yard may require equipment that was sited near an electrical outlet, batteries allow the “Honey Do” list to be completed more flexibly.
With mobile battery technologies, homeowners can plug in tools and charge landscaping equipment wherever doing so is the most convenient. Building a shed on the outskirts of the property where nothing is electrified? Now the power tools can readily be plugged in right at that location. Need to run lights and equipment in a part of the house renovation project where, for safety reasons, the power needs to be cut off? Standalone batteries can still allow you to do so while still having energy access.
Another readily deployable use case for energy storage technology comes via outdoor events. Batteries let the next block party, barbecue, tailgate, or afternoon on the beach have full access to electricity. In so many of these outdoor events, people typically wouldn’t want the dirty, loud generators running, but with batteries capable of going wherever they’re needed, partygoers can power the speakers, plug in the mini-fridge, set up the projector screen, illuminate via lights, and more.
No longer will events be restricted to the one questionably safe outlet at the park (if it even works), but instead events can be most optimally sited. And once again, as the party scales up then additional batteries can be tapped to allow for more capabilities and for the day party to transition into a night event.
Energy storage technologies are being made completely self-sufficient and off the shelf. You don’t need to worry yourself about volts, watts, amps, and other terms that may be confusing. Rather, these energy storage technologies from Joule Case just let you plug in and go. No extra equipment is needed, no rewiring of the house or waiting on the permitting from the city or appointment with the electrician. Simply get going right away.
The only choice facing homeowners: what size and what model? But because of the interoperability of all of Joule Case models, the next generation can be mixed with older models, allowing for growth and scale. Buyer’s remorse is no concern, simply power where and when it’s needed across home applications. From emergency back up power to getting the party started, becoming a prosumer to being a hero tackling the home upgrade list, batteries will energize every size and style of residential customer.