Despite the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate treaty, the US is continuing through a clean-energy revolution driven by economics rather than political policy; wind and solar capacity are rapidly rising while coal-fired generation is in decline.

Texas, being the US wind pioneer, have surpassed 20,000MW in wind capacity in 2017, overtaking the 19,800MW of coal capacity installed in the state with expectations that wind will produce more than coal by 2019, quite a statement considering the state of Texas has long been the biggest consumer of coal in the US. By the end of 2017 the entire US had over 85GW of wind energy installed, sufficient capacity to power 25 million homes.

Solar PV has seen a decrease in growth in comparison with the record levels of 2016, however growth is still apparent with total capacity increased to 49.3GW by the end of Q3 2017, 25% of all new generation installed by Q3 being solar – second only to Gas-fired installations.

While the opportunity for solar and wind power in the US has shown to be great, this further creates a requirement for more flexible stand-by capacity that can provide quick start power to the grid when solar or wind output drops.

Energy storage, namely the use of lithium ion batteries, is identified as one possible alternative to the use of peaking fossil fuel plants. The rapidly decreasing cost of lithium ion and the technological developments in power density and MWh storage within a footprint will see higher use of energy storage as more utilities implement the technology. The price of LI storage is expected to experience the same rapid reduction in cost that was seen in solar PV pricing. One issue that energy storage advocates are expressing is the regulatory changes that would be required to best support the growth and development of the technology, the original US legal framework was developed decades ago based on a centralised grid which isn’t relevant to the changing grid we are seeing today. The framework also does not cater to a definition that energy storage is a hybrid resource; storage is not a load but can absorb power, it’s not a generator but can provide energy and capacity, while also aiding transmission and distribution. Therefore, both federal and grid level changes would be required to appropriately support the implementation of this technology on a wider scale.

Natural gas-fired generation is still the number one source of energy in the US and continues to be the highest growing source due to the steady supply and pricing of natural gas as well as continued improvement in the efficiency of gas fired power plants.

A major issue on the demand-side of the changing grid is the era of ‘big data’. Data centres account for around 2% of the world’s electricity, and although efficiency of the data centre (DC) is improving, the amount of data and therefore energy that is consumed by DCs is on the rise. A zettabyte (ZB) is equal to 1 trillion gigabytes, in 2016/17 the total amount of data in the world was around 16ZB, this is expected to rise tenfold to 160ZB by 2025. This rise is partially attributed to growth of devices; the number of new devices is growing faster than population and internet users, i.e. one person will own several connected devices; phone, tablet, laptop, smart TV, smart fridge, smart meter etc. The other major factor is the growth in the use of data; Netflix & YouTube now account for 50% of all downstream traffic with increases in live video, online gaming and VR streaming etc. Therefore, companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and YouTube require continual investment in new DC infrastructure. This provides opportunity for power providers to partner with data centres to deliver a co-operative solution; joint ventures such as the Black Hills Energy & Microsoft ‘WY Data Centre’ in Cheyenne where the back-up gas generators can used by the utility when not in use by Microsoft.

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