It’s been clear for a long time that the world has to move away from fossil energy sources. Decades ago, this seemed impractical, when renewable energy was hugely expensive, and we were yet to see much impact on the ground from climate change. Meanwhile, prices for solar and wind installations have come down immensely, which helps a lot.
We’re all familiar with batteries. Whether we’re talking about disposable AAs in the TV remote, or giant facilities full of rechargeable cells to store power for the grid, they’re a part of our daily lives and well understood.
However, new technologies for storing energy are on the horizon for grid storage purposes, and they’re very different from the regular batteries we’re used to. These technologies are key to making the most out of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power that aren’t available all the time. Let’s take a look at some of these ideas, and how they radically change what we think of as a “battery.”
That energy storage is a hot topic is hardly a surprise to anyone these days. Even so, energy storage can take a lot of different forms, some of which are more relevant to the utility provider (like grid-level storage), while others are relevant to business and home owners (e.g. whole-house storage), and yet other technologies live in this tense zone between utility and personal interest, such as (electric) vehicle-to-grid.
For utilities a lot of noise is being made about shiny new technologies, such as hydrogen-based storage, while home- and business owners are pondering on the benefits of relying solely on the utility’s generosity with feed-in tariffs, versus charging a big battery from the solar panels on the roof and using the produced power themselves. Ultimately the questions here are which technologies will indeed live up to their promises, and which a home owner may want to invest in.
Although every electrical grid begins with the production of electricity, there are times when storing this power in some form instead of using it immediately is highly convenient. Today’s battery-powered gadgets are an obvious example of such time-shifting, but energy storage plays a major role on the grid itself, too, whether in electrochemical, mechanical or in some other form.
Utility-level energy storage is essential for not only stabilizing the grid, but also to time-shift excess energy and provide a way to deal with sudden spikes in demand (peak-shaving) plus demand drops by absorbing the excess energy. The health of the grid can essentially be regarded as a function of its alternating current (AC) frequency, with strong deviations potentially leading to a collapse of the grid.
Naturally, such energy storage is not free, and the benefits of adding it to the grid have to be considered against the expense, as well as potential alternatives. With the rapid increase of highly volatile electrical generators on the grid in the form of non-dispatchable variable renewable energy, e.g. wind turbines and PV solar, there has been a push to store more excess power rather than curtailing it, in addition to using energy storage for general grid health.
Lithium rechargeable batteries have been heralded for their high-density energy storage, enabling all manner of technologies to come to fruition. From drones to practical electric cars to large-scale grid storage, the applications are endless.
However, the lithium rechargeable battery has always had one major flaw–flammability. Pushed outside their operating range or otherwise tipped into thermal runaway, and they can burn ferociously as a result.
This came to pass in late July, at the Victorian Big Battery in Geelong, Australia, and it took significant effort to extinguish the blaze. Let’s take a look at the project and see how this came to occur.
The Victorian Big Battery is a grid storage project similar in construction to the Hornsdale Power Reserve in neighboring South Australia. However, where the Hornsdale facility fields 194 MWh of capacity and 150MW peak power delivery, the new project aims to go much further. The Victorian project aims to install 450 MWh of capacity and deliver a peak power output of 300 MW.
As nation states grapple with the spectre of environmental and economic losses due to climate change, we’ve seen an ever greater push towards renewable energy sources to replace heavier polluters like coal and natural gas. One key drawback of these sources has always been their intermittent availability, spurring interest in energy storage technologies that can operate at the grid level.
With the rise in distributed energy generation with options like home solar power, there’s been similar interest in the idea of distributed home battery storage. However, homeowners can be reluctant to make investments in expensive batteries that take years to pay themselves off in energy savings. But what if they had a giant battery already, just sitting outside in the driveway? Could electric vehicles become a useful source of grid power storage? As it turns out, Ford wants to make their electric trucks double as grid storage batteries for your home.
Renewable energy has long been touted as a major requirement in the fight to stave off the world’s growing climate emergency. Governments have been slow to act, but prices continue to come down and the case for renewables grows stronger by the day.
However, renewables have always struggled around the issue of availability. Solar power only works when the sun is shining, and wind generators only when the wind is blowing. The obvious solution is to create some kind of large, grid-connected battery to store excess energy in off-peak periods, and use it to prop up the grid when renewable outputs are low. These days, that’s actually a viable idea, as South Australia proved in 2017.