FutureStructure

Providing Adequate Energy Storage for the Grid

The power grid can’t store large amounts of energy, so electricity must be produced as it is used. One Maryland company has found a way to use water heaters -- a staple in all homes -- as a way to store energy for peak hours.

by Brandi Bottalico, The Frederick News-Post, Md. / September 26, 2016

(TNS) -- Laurie Vaudreuil had just broken up tiles to make a mosaic for her and her husband’s kitchen when they were struggling to find a name for their company years ago. Her husband suggested the name Mosaic Power, which she thought was fitting.

Their company uses water heaters to store energy from the power grid, transferring electricity from power plants to homes and businesses.

“You really are taking an old existing infrastructure and breaking it up and turning it into something that’s totally new and amazing,” Vaudreuil said. “There is no battery backup on the electric grid, and so we’re basically using the fact that you have thermal storage in a water heater to sort of bridge that gap.”

On Tuesday, Mosaic Power, on West All Saints Street in Frederick, hosted some familiar faces from Startup Maryland, an organization that aims to connect entrepreneurs and help them grow.

Mosaic Power was a winner in the 2012 STRT1UP Road Show, a state tour competition in which startups pitch their companies to Startup Maryland. The STRT1UP Road Show is holding its fifth tour this year and stopped in Frederick on Tuesday, hearing pitches from entrepreneurs.

In the back of Startup Maryland’s trailer, Mount Airy resident Tom Condrasky made a pitch on behalf of his company, Cybrary, which is online education on cybersecurity. He began the company in February 2015.

Michael Spinosa, a New Market resident, pitched his company, Unleashed Technologies, which is established and brings in $5 million to $6 million a year in revenue doing web design and hosting, he said. He described cyber as “the new landscape of American industry” and said the competition is good for startups that participate.

“I wish nothing but the best for people that take part in it,” he said.

Vaudreuil remembered her first time pitching the company on the tour in 2012. She said she and her husband were still in the research phase of the company.

“We needed to be able to talk to people about what we were doing,” she said. “So being able to present on the bus was good practice.”

While it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of how the product works or why it’s important, the only thing anyone cares about is if it affects the heat of their water, Vaudreuil said. Residents don’t notice the difference.

“In our day-to-day lives, nobody thinks about the electric grid,” said Danny Chiotos, Mosaic Power’s sales and marketing director. “All we care about is if the washing machine works and the lights turn on.”

The power grid can’t store large amounts of energy, so electricity must be produced as it is used. The grid must respond quickly to shifts in demand and continuously generate and route electricity to where it’s needed.

The Vaudreuils’ water heater controllers help manage the time that the water heaters in residents’ homes are heated to increase efficiency and balance the supply and demand on the power grid. The business model they established allows them to install the controllers for free and pay the members of the co-op $100 per year per water heater for allowing them to use the storage in their heater.

“It’s an amazingly beautiful technology for the fact that it was already existing and we didn’t create it around this criteria, but it works really, really well, turning it on or off quickly without doing any damage,” Vaudreuil said.

Connecting one water heater reduces 1.5 tons of carbon per year emitted from power plants by reducing the need for them to ramp up and down to meet grid demands, Chiotos said they found from internal studies. Wind and solar power also need storage, and water heaters provide a good option.

There are 40 million electric water heaters across the country, Vaudreuil said.

“That’s a huge amount of storage,” she said. “Over a month, one water heater can move a megawatt of electricity. So you think about that — 40 million water heaters. It’s phenomenal.”

Mosaic Power, which was founded in 2011, has now installed more than 5,000 of its controlled energy meters to water heaters in the mid-Atlantic region, with the majority of that growth in the last year. The company uses the control devices and individual behavior patterns to determine when to use energy to heat the water.

“We don’t change how much electricity people use. What we’re doing is making exactly when that electricity is used much more efficient, down to the minutes and seconds,” Vaudreuil said.

More than half of the controllers were installed in Maryland, with hundreds in Frederick, Chiotos said. Mosaic Power is the only company to use water heaters as storage without going through a utility company, Vaudreuil said.

As the company continues to grow, it is starting to consider reaching into other regions, but has to look into regulations in other places, Vaudreuil said.

Chiotos said there is no silver bullet for solving the power grid storage problem, but this is progress.

“There’s all kinds of different things, so this increasing renewable grid ... can keep the lights on reliably,” he said. “We’re just one piece of that buckshot solution. But an important piece.”

©2016 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.