About Social Acceptance of Energy Storage Systems

The aim of this research project is to study the social acceptance of energy storage systems. It is part of a wider Canadian research network (NESTNet) on energy storage technology, funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and led by Professor Bala Venkatesh at the Centre for Urban Energy at Ryerson University. 

<--break->The topic of social acceptance encompasses many different dimensions of the possible relationships people may have with the numerous different kinds of energy storage technologies and the wide range of potential services they offer. Below we attempt to shed some light on the ways in which all of these dimensions interact. 

What is 'energy storage'?

Broadly speaking, energy storage allows us to shift energy through time - taking a quantity of energy produced at one point of time and storing it until a later time when we have a use for it. Critically, storage is a process that we facilitate - the fact that fossil fuels are essentially stores of energy produced by the sun millions of years ago does not qualify them for inclusion as energy storage in the contemporary sense of the word. 

While stores of fossil fuel products may indeed be considered forms of energy storage (think strategic petroleum reserves, natural gas present in pipeline infrastructure, etc.), more often when we think of energy storage today it is in reference to the storage of electrical energy, i.e., electricity. The stability of electricity grids depends on our ability to match demand and supply - a feat which gets more complicated as more intermittent sources of energy, like wind and solar power, are introduced onto the grid. Energy storage technology can thus provide a range of services to electricity grids that can help to make them more reliable, and more sustainable. 

There are a number of different technologies for storing electricity, some of which have been in use for many years (like the pumped hydro system at the Sir Adam Beck generating station on the Niagara river in Ontario). Others, such as flywheels, solid state and flow batteries are relatively new and yet to be demonstrated at grid-level scale. This is changing rapidly, however. Interest in energy storage, at the level of the grid but also in the end-use sector, among homeowners, commercial and industrial users, has been steadily increasing over the past five years.

Nevertheless, the future of energy storage - both in terms of the rate at which it will be adopted and the impact it will have on electricity systems - is full of uncertainties. One such uncertainty concerns the attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of users at all levels toward the technology; in short, the social acceptance of energy storage. 

What is 'social acceptance'?

As already noted, social acceptance pertains to the attitudes, intentions, beliefs and use of innovative energy technologies (See Upham, Oltra and Boso, 2015). It is commonplace in the literature on social acceptance to distinguish between acceptance in communities, in markets and at a "socio-political" (i.e., key stakeholder and policy-maker) level. In each case, acceptance consists of the views people have of the technology itself, but also the process associated with its deployment.  

Because of the wide range of different energy storage technologies, and their possible use at many different scales and in across different sectors in electricity systems, all of these dimensions of social acceptance are important considerations that will impact the future development and deployment of energy storage. Will homeowners purchase storage to lessen their reliance on the grid? How will communities react to large-scale energy storage projects being located in their neighbourhood? How will utility companies adapt to the changing business environment associated with more 'distributed' energy technologies? Will policy-makers act to facilitate more use of innovative energy storage technology, or will they act to prevent the disruption that could result? All of these are pertinent questions to ask about the possible acceptance of energy storage. 

Because energy storage is relatively 'new' on the scene, there is not a great deal of research that has been conducted on its social acceptance. Accordingly, this project aims to address these gaps with a combination of academic review and case study, looking to the existing literature on the acceptance of analogous technology to identify salient considerations for the acceptance of energy storage, and conducting empirical research into different dimensions of acceptance at the community and socio-political levels. 

References

Upham, Paul, Christian Oltra, and Àlex Boso. “Towards a Cross-Paradigmatic Framework of the Social Acceptance of Energy Systems.” Energy Research & Social Science 8 (July 2015): 100–112. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2015.05.003.

Wüstenhagen, Rolf, Maarten Wolsink, and Mary Jean Bürer. “Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy Innovation: An Introduction to the Concept.” Energy Policy 35, no. 5 (May 2007): 2683–91. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2006.12.001.