A Sustainable Energy Boom Supported by Storage

By Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO on March 19, 2019
Traver Kennedy
Home  / Blog  /  A Sustainable Energy Boom Supported by Storage

At scale, renewables need a sidekick. Solar works beautifully, as long as there’s sun; and wind generates lots of power, as long as there’s a steady breeze. However, when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, energy production from the two most popular, and fastest-growing, renewables comes to a halt. The opposite is also true. When nature cooperates, both wind and solar generate excess energy that needs to be shifted elsewhere…or stored.

A recent article by Science Magazine explains, “The market for such technologies has grown along with renewables: In 2007, solar and wind provided just 0.8% of all power in the United States; in 2017, that number was 8%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.” Today energy storage is a booming area of technology innovation that wind and solar companies, as well as utilities, are working on. A CleanTechnica article puts the business of storage technology into perspective, “With the rise of variable renewable generation, storage is poised to become big business,” calling it the “next game-changer” in energy. In today’s post, we explore recent trends in storage to help manage the intermittency of solar and wind by storing the excess energy they generate.

Storage innovation is key to solving the problem of the intermittency of renewables like solar and wind.

The Numbers Portend a Boom

As with most industries, pure economics drive adoption and growth of new energy sources. Energy storage is experiencing a growth wave that is driving costs down, just in time to complement solar and wind, which are booming everywhere. For perspective, a November 2018 report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) calls it a “battery boom” and predicts investments will reach $620 billion in the next two decades. They encapsulate the situation quite well in their opening statement:

“The battery boom is coming to China, California and basically everywhere else—and it will be even bigger than previously thought. The global energy-storage market will surge to a cumulative 942 gigawatts by 2040 and that growth will necessitate $620 billion in investment. Sharply falling battery costs is a key driver of the boom. BNEF sees the capital cost of a utility-scale lithium-ion storage system falling another 52% by 2030.”

Interestingly, wind and solar storage are not the exclusive drivers behind the energy storage boom. Electric vehicles and the need to take energy to remote places―driven in part by another technology wave we are experiencing, the Internet of Things―are contributing factors behind the explosive growth in batteries of all kinds. Another article written by Energy Storage News suggests that “the economies of scale of lithium-ion, driven by the success of stationary storage as well as consumer electronics and EV markets, will be the leading driver of cost reduction achieved in 2019.”

100% Renewables Require Batteries

The BNEF report quotes the executive chairman of rooftop-solar company Sunrun, Inc. as saying, “Storage is just so sensibly the next step in the evolution of renewable energy. If we’re going to get to 100% renewable energy, we’ll need storage.”

Bloomberg predicts that energy storage can reach 7% of the world’s total installed power capacity by 2040, driven initially by utilities and then overtaken by business and residential, as distributed power becomes ubiquitous. Having the capacity to store energy centrally as well as at the edges of the grid will eliminate the major obstacle impeding 100% renewable adoption. It will also ease one of the major headaches for utilities, which is the always costly need to balance the grid to meet supply and demand every day.

2018 seems to have been an inflection year for utilities in the storage area as “grid-level storage is reaching the magic point where the cost curve crosses the value line,” asserts a senior analyst with Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables in a recent Forbes interview. He further elaborates, “That intersection is emerging, that point where cost meets value, sooner than a lot of people in the market anticipated, and the market’s responding. We’re seeing a lot of interest not only in the traditional markets with policy mechanisms in place…but in these non-traditional markets where utilities are looking at solar-plus-storage competing directly with conventional generation peaking applications.” This means that fossil fuel-based peaker plants will need to power up less often to make up for the variability of renewables.

Hydrogen: Long-Term, Large-Scale Storage Capacity

Storage doesn’t only come in one flavor. In addition to traditional lead-acid batteries, new lithium-ion batteries, and redox-flow batteries, other energy storage methods include traditional hydroelectric power, compressed air on both a small and large scale, the conversion of electricity or mechanical energy stored with a flywheel, and many other approaches. However, clean and affordable hydrogen seems to offer a better answer.

For grid-level storage, Science Magazine concurs, “Some utilities are beginning to install massive banks of batteries in hopes of storing excess energy and evening out the balance sheet. But batteries are costly and store only enough energy to back up the grid for a few hours at most. Another option is to store the energy by converting it into hydrogen fuel.”

Hydrogen can provide renewables with both the highest capacity and the longest energy release time, making hydrogen production a no-brainer when it comes to storing excess wind and solar power. An added benefit of hydrogen is that it can also be converted efficiently into electricity as needed. Rather than being wasted, renewables’ energy surplus can be used to produce hydrogen from water, which can then be stored and subsequently used to produce electricity when solar and wind are not available.

In the future, the intermittency of renewables like solar and wind will cease to be a problem and will no longer pose a barrier for full-scale adoption of clean energy everywhere. As storage technologies, from batteries to hydrogen, continue to advance, planet-friendly energy will power our lives 24/7.


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