Explaining what energy storage is can be difficult sometimes. Leave explaining the benefits for another day. If you store air in a balloon, it expands. If you store boxes in a warehouse, the shelves get full. But, if you store energy, for most mediums you usually still have a paneled or enclosed box still sitting there, unchanged to any of the five senses. Maybe a fan is blowing harder, maybe.
The American electricity grid is remarkable and unique. It forms one of the most comprehensive supply chains, delivering the product of electricity to almost every house, mall, church, and school, office, factory, etc. in the US night and day. Yet, this product is generated and consumed almost simultaneously – unlike nearly any other product. Energy storage changes that dynamic and puts a warehouse of energy in between generation – either renewable or traditional natural gas, coal, or nuclear – and the final consumer.
Perhaps the most analogous system is a public or municipal water utility. Treatment plants “generate” portable water (meaning water fit for consumption) and pipes distribute the product to buildings and other users like wires do for electricity. Plus, there is the classic water tower, the element not present in the electricity grid. Water towers allow consumption and generation to be decoupled. Pumps are used to maintain water levels in the tower, the height of which creates hydrostatic pressure from the weight of the water to push it downward into the distribution system.
One of the cooler things about water towers is how cities make them their own. Having driven across a good portion of the United States, and especially between Washington, D.C. and my hometown of Normal, IL multiple times per year, I can always mark my progress along the route by noting the town names on the water towers I am passing along the way. The town of Canfield sticks out as about the time I tend to become very ready to leave the great state of Ohio on I-70. Other towns put their slogans, their notable accomplishments, or even make their towers into the shape of their local gastronomic specialty like the peach in Cherokee County, SC. Here are two sites that detail the more interesting water towers of the world: http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/architecture/news-worlds-10-weirdest-water-towers and http://www.theworldgeography.com/2012/10/14-unique-water-towers-from-around-world.html.
I’m looking forward to the day when cities and towns each have their own iconic energy storage devices shaped or painted to reflect their culture. In Normal, IL, I’d fully anticipate a corn cob- or soybean -shaped battery enclosure.