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Getting extra power to where it's needed is a tricky business, often requiring millions of dollars in investments.
Now a solar-industry veteran has proposed a cheaper alternative: juice stored in batteries that are delivered by truck, rail or barge.
Shihab Kuran, who founded Petra Systems Inc. and also worked at NRG Energy Inc. and SunEdison Inc., has now formed Power Edison, which offers grid-scale lithium-ion battery systems encased in specialized shipping containers that can be stacked like Legos.
The Green Brook, N.J.-based company was formed in March and formally announced Thursday.
The units would let utilities dispatch storage systems to match shifting demand and defer costly upgrades to the grid. Portability also allows businesses to send batteries to where power is needed most, like Canada in winter and Brazil in summer.
"We are the Uber of battery storage," Kuran said in an interview. "We're going to offer a solution for the duration that it's needed, and after that, we'll take our solution and re-purpose that for other applications."
Power Edison's offering comes as utilities like Consolidated Edison Inc. seek to employ new technologies like storage to avoid spending millions to beef up electricity networks to accommodate rising consumption.
The amount of storage capacity installed globally is forecast to reach 750 megawatts this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, up from 160 megawatts in 2014.
Kuran, who previously headed storage businesses at NRG and SunEdison, said the key to his strategy is making batteries easier to move. Lithium-ion systems are complicated to transport. They are heavy, sensitive to temperature changes and prone to bursting into flames.
To solve that problem, Power Edison designed containers to protect them from the rigors of travel.
"Today if you want to move an energy storage container by code you have to empty the batteries out, you have to put them into cool containers, you have to transport them separately," Kuran said. "It's a very expensive process."
Another part of the strategy is leasing the batteries instead of selling them, cutting costs for utilities, Kuran said. Utilities typically rely on battery storage for one to three years before major upgrades are needed to meet rising power demand.
The containers, measuring up to 40 feet long, will have a capacity of one megawatt-hour. The company is taking orders now and the first project is expected to be unveiled this year.
Clean energy advocates have long considered storage the elusive link to better incorporating energy into the grid from wind and solar farms, where production ebbs and flows based on breezes and sunshine.
"Solving the storage problem, in my humble opinion, is the last obstacle before allowing renewables to become a meaningful source of energy that can tackle climate change," Kuran said. "Renewables, they suffer from intermittency and they are not a dispatchable energy source, so energy storage remains to be the Holy Grail that many in the industry are working on."