Battery storage technology is the new “it-girl” in the fight against climate change. Hear her latest hits about fighting climate change.
Battery Technology 101
Battery storage technology is not a new concept. Many utility-scale battery systems are advancements from the lithium-ion battery of 1985. Trigger warning: 1985 was *not* 15 years ago like some of us think. We are just as uncomfortable with that news as you are.
But alas, this technology has been developed for decades and has recently started getting the credit it deserves as the all-star of clean energy. There are many types of these batteries, all serving different purposes with different storage capacities. These are batteries in the ever-famous Tesla electric cars, on solar power plants, and even small ones in green-friendly homes.
Breakthroughs in battery technology have delivered lithium-ion batteries, lead-acid batteries, and flow batteries for large-scale use. Here is a quick summary:
Lithium-ion batteries:Conductors and electrolytes team up to discharge and charge the battery. These friends work together for a short but meaningful adventure.
Lead-acid Batteries: Sulfuric acid, water, and lead are the medium of the yin-yang of the battery world. Where there is a negative metal plate, there is a positive plate. These three mediums work together to take the traits of these two plates and use them to produce electricity.
Flow Batteries:A tale of two tanks. These tanks are the antithesis of the houses of Montague and Capulet. These two tanks share a membrane and electrochemical cells, allowing fluid to pass between the tanks and charge the cells. Sharing is caring.
Now that we have given you this crayon-diagram version of these batteries that likely left every engineer reading this with less hair- let’s get back to our chat.
These different batteries have different storage capacities, lifespans, and usage. In the case of batteries, size 0 or storage capacity- does matter.
In the case of flow batteries, a large area is required to house these tanks, deeming them best for a large-scale renewable project. However, this lang required will take much work to come by with the great land grab currently happening. Due to this land requirement, the tried-and-true Lithium-Ion battery remains the most popular pick for a battery storage system. Lithium-ion batteries are small, low-cost, and require less land. A fan favorite all around.
Let’s put it this way. In the storage world, the lithium-ion battery is to Justin Timberlake in NSYNC.
So now that we know the band members of the different battery storage systems, what do we do with them? Will they go on tour and make it big?
A great question.
The Energy Transition and Carbon Emission Goals
As climate change awareness has increased in recent decades, many have pushed for a transition away from fossil fuels to more green sources. This transition has been supported with new Greentech, legislative actions such as Biden’s net-zero goals for greenhouse gas emissions, and increased development of utility-scale renewable energy sources. As we take steps through this transition, many wonder if our actions will be enough to reach our goals.
The Sustainability of Renewable Energy: Can’t Go at It Alone
The energy produced by renewable sources has always been deemed the frontline defense against rising carbon emissions. Wind turbines and solar panels are icons of hope and the future. However, these heroes can’t do it alone. Where would Thor be without his hammer? Where would spider-man be without that feisty, radioactive spider? We could rest our case here, but we will explain.
The amount of energy produced by these power plants is significant. However, this energy is temporary. For example, the energy produced by a hydro or solar power plant is intermittent. Why? Well, spoiler alert, the sun doesn’t shine at night in most places (I’m looking at you, Norway.)
Due to this, the energy that is not immediately used by the electric grid is lost. To compare, creating electricity generation without storage capacity is like making your own food for every meal and never reusing ingredients or eating leftovers. It is costly, inefficient, and incredibly wasteful.
The here today gone tonight nature of renewables makes storing this energy vital to transitioning away from natural gas. If we want to rely on wind power and other renewable sources, we have to mitigate the intermittency of these sources.
*Cue dramatic entrance*
This is where energy storage systems come in. The renewable power generated and not immediately used by the electric grid can be stored using a battery storage system. This allows large-scale developers to utilize their plant’s capacity, producing renewable energy with less risk and higher return. This decreased risk and cost-effective energy translate over to the customer cost, allowing more people to access clean energy at a lower rate.
A Power Grid-Shaped Problem
Texas Outages and the Mitigation of Blackouts
An example of the drastic aid that energy storage technologies can provide is the “Texas Snowpocalypse“ of 2021. During this event, severe winter weather was experienced across the state without much preparation. Due to this event, the electric grid was overpowered, and many homes were left without power for days- and, in some areas, weeks following the event. The severe weather resulted in many deaths and injuries.
Now, the argument for increased battery manufacturing sometimes centers around extreme cases such as this. However, it is nice to imagine how helpful battery storage can be for those facing severe weather and blackouts.
With the ability to store energy and plan for increased demand, the grid can be more stabilized and less prone to severe blackout events. When demand is expected to increase, energy stores can be deposited from these storage systems and circulated into use for the public to access. This takes the stress off the system, allows for decreased energy losses during low-usage periods, and provides the boost needed to survive periods of heightened use.
Managing Energy Costs
When thinking of “clean energy,” a few things come to mind.
That Dawn commercial of them cleaning the ducks (I will never look at a bottle of dish soap the same)
Dolla dolla bills, y’all
For many, green energy alternatives are an unreachable goal due to cost. They imagine that solar panels are only on the houses of people like Oprah or some land in the middle of nowhere at an undisclosed location so no one can access them.
They would be wrong, but the heart is there. Solar panels use clean energy in residential homes or neighborhoods with commercial systems. At the current pace of green energy accessibility, the energy transition feels like we are watching a toddler eat loose cheerios with their hands.
I get that they have tiny hands and no fine motor skills, but they drop SO MANY. I digress…
By introducing more energy storage solutions, the renewable energy created in one region can be accessed by others in areas lacking the socioeconomic availability for this energy or the land for these developments. Additionally, by being able to adjust the grid for moments of low and peak usage by discharging energy from these storage systems, the stress on the grid and the cost of energy losses result in lower energy bills. Not to mention, the ability to store all renewable energy that is generated can lower the cost of this energy over time.
Green energy saving you some green is what we like to see. However, we want to acknowledge that though battery storage can improve the accessibility of green energy for many people, we have a long way to go regarding environmental justice.
Where Does Power Generation Go From Here?
The development of clean energy sources is going to continue to increase rapidly. This change is due to the growing popularity of renewable energy and actions such as Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that provide financial support for renewable project development. Additionally, this act offers financial support for storage solutions.
We will likely see more grid-scale storage solutions as land developers continue learning the value of these battery energy storage systems. Though they can yield a high up-front cost, the long-term losses and positive environmental impact outweigh these barriers. Our nation still has a great deal of work to do to successfully complete the clean energy transition and leave fossil fuels in the past.