Game of Power Storage: Nations in Quest to Find the Ultimate Battery
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Game of Power Storage: Nations in Quest to Find the Ultimate Battery

By Energy CIO Insights | Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The prices for existing means of energy storage are varying daily, resulting in ambiguity. The need for sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective storage systems is gaining interest and innovations are being carried out in all parts of the world.

FREMONT, CA: The urgency of decarbonizing energy systems and the rising costs wind and solar technology has enforced a gush of brilliant ideas which are turning over the page to transformation in the utility industry. The wind and solar installations in the U.S. have generated double the quantity of electricity when compared to the previous decade, according to the Energy Information Administration. The forecast determined that the wind, solar, and other non-hydroelectric renewables will be the fastest-growing section of the electricity sector for the next two years.

The only hurdle the energy sector needs to jump over is the intermittent behavior of these renewables. The producers are forced to pull a rabbit out of the hat, that which will generate energy in times when the sun doesn’t shine, and the winds calm down. The need for a sustainable option of energy storage technology has finally gained more interest than electricity generation itself. Until then, Lithium-ion batteries have posed to be saviors.

Since decades, the pumped-storage hydropower has been the staple of energy storage. The simple process involves the pumping water to a higher elevation or even different elevation when the energy in excess is generated. In emergencies, water pumped flows on the turbines in line with the pull of gravity, and the energy is generated. Pumped-storage hydropower accounts for 95 percent of U.S. utility-scale energy storage at present, according to the Department of Energy. With lithium-ion batteries, efficiency and reliability are enhanced, causing an upsurge. The batteries account for more than 80 percent of the U.S.’s utility-scale battery storage power capacity, which leaped from a few megawatts a decade ago to 866 megawatts by 2019, reports EIA. An analysis in March 2019 by Bloomberg New Energy Finance indicates that the cost of electricity from batteries has dropped by 76 percent since 2012. This decline is making it closer than competitive with the plants, powered by natural gas, that are run during times of high electricity demand. To date, the batteries have majorly been used to make brief, quick adjustments to maintain necessary power levels. Utilities in several states, including Florida and California, are adding lithium-ion batteries so that it will be able to last for two to four hours. Energy research firm Wood Mackenzie predicts that the market for energy storage will double from the year 2018 to 2019 and triple from the year 2019 to 2020.

Lithium-ion batteries are likely to be the dominant technology for the next five to ten years, according to experts of the field. The constant innovation will result in improvements in batteries that can store four to eight hours of energy. The time long enough to shift to solar-generated power to the evening peak in demand.

To travel to the point where renewables and energy storage can handle the baseline load of electricity generation will take longer timescales. When put into other words, it means, the trend will supersede the lithium-ion batteries. The competition for the li-ion batteries ranges from high-tech solutions like flow batteries, which pump liquid electrolytes, and hydrogen fuel cells to basic foundational concepts, such as pumped-storage and gravity storage. The economics of these options are in question. The pumped-storage hydropower is cost-effective once it is built, but it is expensive to make and is limited to a particular type of terrain.

Similarly, the concept of gravity storage is simple to use. The spare electricity is used to raise a massive block that is later lowered to generate electricity with the help of gravity. Other alternatives are under development to confirm its reliability, efficiency, and cost-competitiveness with the lithium-ion batteries. Only three large-scale flow-battery storage systems were deployed in the U.S. by 2017, according to the EIA, and utility-scale hydrogen systems have said to be in demonstration stages. The U.S. government is funding some projects in this domain, primarily via the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The significant share of investment in technologies is happening in China and South Korea, which have addressed the need for storage research and have ramped up facilities.

Uncertainty is the only constant as the energy storage costs are varying with each day. The accumulation of pledges by governments at all state and local level in the U.S. is piling up. The promises to accomplish a carbon-free electricity production will provide a continuous supply of motivation to bring about more and more sustainable storage online.

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