Two recent announcements in the power distribution arena indicate that the quickly changing mix of electric power generation is going to affect the producers, customers, and everyone in between.

Regulations move markets
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently reported:

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) recorded a record midday hourly peak of 4,767 megawatts of alternating current (MWAC) of utility-generated solar electricity delivered into the California grid.

Eia Cal Solar Peaks

Source: CAISO Daily Renewables Watch
Note: Data do not include distributed generation solar electricity where output is behind-the-meter.

 And more solar capacity is coming on-line due to California's 2020 renewable energy goals.

Eia Monthly Cal Solar Peaks

Source: CAISO Daily Renewables Watch
Note: This chart shows a set of 24 hours for each month, calculated from CAISO's average hourly output data by taking the average output for each hour in a given month. The peaks therefore do not exactly correspond to actual peak outputs, but should approximate the average peak hourly output in a given month.

In addition, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has issued new orders to modernize their electric grid:  

With these orders, Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to require electric distribution companies to take steps to modernize the electric grid, according to state officials.

Each of these announcements is just the latest buzz in a flurry of activity that is taking place in the power generation and distribution markets. Like it or not, regulation and market incentives are altering the power map. 

Grid storage is key
A key element in all of this is the implementation of large capacity utility grid storage systems—or big batteries. One example, pumped hydro storage, has been in place for decades and is a proven performer but requires large initial investments, unique sites and years of approvals, permits and construction. Furthermore, smart grid technologies indicate a favor for high capacity, embedded, small footprint storage devices. These can implement a number of technologies, but are basically large, quick response batteries distributed throughout the grid, allowing the system to rapidly adapt to changing generation and consumption levels.

While there are many privately held start-ups in the market, each vying for their piece of the economic pie, if the past is any indication most of these will eventually fail or be bought out by the big players. These include such giants as General Electric (NYSE:GE), which has already been active in the arena with its past acquisition of Beta R&D and its cooperative agreements with Arista Power and Xtreme Power. GE's Energy Storage division currently offers megawatt scalable storage that integrates with existing grid management systems. GE's Schenectady, New York plant gives it the U.S. based manufacturing facilities to meet demand.

Another big player is NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG); the large, New Jersey-based, energy provider has already announced a redirected focus from conventional energy production to both grid and home-based renewables. NRG is supporting private firms such as grid storage battery innovator EOS Genesis and Stirling engine backup power developer Deka Research, whose engine is designed to provide localized power from abundant and clean natural gas.    

Regardless of the market drivers, grid power storage is critical to the future of both unpredictable renewables and the smart grid build out. The small innovators are driving the technologies, but the big players are already sponsoring them and will likely absorb them in the future, integrating their innovations into their bottom line.


Jonathan Cook has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.