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Growing up on the farm – and being one of several boys – I was exposed to a lot of machinery, engines and other equipment that helped to keep the farm running. Technology was always evolving. In our free time, my siblings and I loved being outside. One of our favorite pastimes was hunting for nightcrawlers after dark using flashlights. We would sell the nightcrawlers for 25 cents per dozen to area residents for fishing. Back then, when I was just single digits in age – I had my first exposure to the basics of energy storage in the form of using disposable alkaline batteries to power our flashlights.

Fast forward to today, and flashlights mainly use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and run on rechargeable batteries. Like nearly all technological advancements, energy storage technology continues to evolve. Sure, we still have batteries and other small-scale storage devices. However, where storage technology is being evaluated to be most affordable and efficient for consumers is for larger scale, energy and electricity use. With the increase of intermittent renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar, in power generation portfolios the need to store energy is a hot topic. However, it’s not necessarily a new topic.

For example, electric cooperatives have integrated energy storage solutions for a long time through water heater thermal storage. In this case, water is heated using electricity and stored in water heaters to reduce peak energy use.

Most recently, Iowa’s electric cooperatives have been working with the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Iowa Energy Office and statewide stakeholders to develop Iowa’s first-ever Energy Storage Action Plan, which was released in May. Historically, the energy industry has utilized the raw energy sources for the storage of energy, such as coal, natural gas and uranium, which must be converted into electricity or kilowatt-hours. The current focus seems to be focused primarily on storage of electricity in batteries.

Today, the research is working to advance the storage of electricity in batteries. To date, the challenge has been making the technology capable of storing large quantities of electricity cost-effectively. When co-op members think of energy storage, many may think of having a robust storage unit in their basement to provide backup power from a storm that knocks out power for a couple of days. The industry isn’t there yet in providing a cost-effective solution for these cases. Right now, the average energy storage options would provide only a few hours of storage and are expensive. Other alternatives, such as backup generators, remain more cost-effective. If you are exploring storage or backup generators contact your local electric cooperative as they are excellent sources of information.

From an electric cooperative perspective, we’re continuously assessing these new technologies. In Iowa, three key storage opportunities are currently being examined: 1) Utility scale storage, 2) On-premise storage for a large-scale consumer, and 3) A residential energy storage pilot project by an electric cooperative in northeast Iowa. As these potentially develop, any technology that becomes a resource for cooperatives must meet the criteria of being safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible for members. At the local level, integrating any new technology into the cooperative’s system must make sense for its members.

We look forward to continuing to be an active participant in state and federal policy discussions surrounding this evolving technology.  

Regi Goodale is the director of regulatory affairs for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives

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