A $52 million smart grid project focusing on solar power, energy storage, and electric grid management has gone live in Los Alamos, New Mexico, after being co-developed by a consortium of U.S. and Japanese companies. Among the Japanese participants include tech giants like Kyocera, Toshiba, and Hitachi, along with several government groups from both countries, all focusing on how to solve the problems around gathering more renewable energies and how to add them to existing power supply grids.
The largest multi-faceted problem with increasing the reliance on renewable energies is the technical and operations challenges for utility companies. Most renewable energies, like solar and wind, are not only dependent on the weather, but also can only be generated at certain times of the day or night. Electric grids work best when supply and demand are balanced, and sources like gas or nuclear power are able to provide a steady source, which is why they have been used for so long. If electricity from solar power can only be generated during daylight hours, what happens when that supply ends at dusk, yet people want to keep consuming power? Therein like the complication with batteries and trying develop storage technology that can store large amounts of surplus power for potentially long periods of time.
The Japanese companies involved are no doubt eager to participate because of the opportunities to sell their products in the U.S. market, but the developments from this research could also result in benefits for Japan. With the Japanese public becoming more and more interested in abolishing nuclear power after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, the market for renewable energy is rapidly expanding in Japan. Kyocera has already announced plans to sell solar energy systems that include batteries to Japanese homeowners. Hopefully a better understanding of smart grids and increasing reliance on renewable energies will give Japan the knowledge needed to quickly end their reliance on nuclear.[via Giga Om]