New tech needed to improve energy storage

In order for wind and solar to compete with fossil fuels, new ways of storing renewable energy must be found.

Energy storage

Currently, lithium ion batteries are the go-to solution. Already used to bank backup power for hospitals, offices and even towns, they remain too expensive for most grid-applications, even with experts saying that the prices are dropping.

Unable to store more than four hours worth of energy at a reasonable price point, combining the limited storage space and costly application of lithium ion batteries, new technology is needed to improve storage options.

Alternative storage solutions that companies are experimenting with include thermal batteries, flow batteries and gravity-based systems.

Flow batteries use tanks of electrolytes capable of storing enough electricity to power thousands of homes for many hours, however many flow batteries also rely on vanadium, an expensive and rare metal with short-lived and toxic alternatives.

Thermal batteries turn electrical input into heat and are said to be able to store at least five times more energy than lithium ion batteries – and so could be a real game changer.

With gravity-based systems, large amounts of energy can be stored for around 6-14 hours and can be made available again. Electrical pumps pump water beneath moveable pistons that lift rock mass. During periods of low generation, the water is routed to a turbine and electricity is generated though a conventional hydroelectric generator.

If renewables can be stored efficiently, at times when supply exceeds demand, electricity could be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The produced hydrogen could then be used for home-heating among other applications.

If any of these alternative technologies prove able to provide long-duration energy storage, renewables like solar and wind will finally be able to give fossil fuels a run for their money.


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