ALTERNATE ENERGY: Energy storage’s weak link is getting stronger
Alternate energy has this one major flaw. It is very weather dependent. It depends so much on whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. If either reduces in intensity or stops so does its respective energy output.
Since this form of energy conversion has an element of randomness it needs a backup system. Like harvest days of old, you had to store your grain if you were to get through the winter. So while the sun shines and the wind is blowing, these key alternate energy devices must make hay, metaphorically speaking. To make the most of the sun or wind, the unused energy must be converted and stored. To date the best means of storage is over 100 years old, the lead acid battery.
Permit me, s’il vous plait, and divert for a moment to point out that there are many other forms of storage. For example, there is electrolysis that can produce hydrogen; there is water storage where power plants during their idling time, pump water into a reservoir, which in turn runs a turbine during peak times; and heat storage in salt beds where thermal mass is needed, for example, to heat a space at night. These means are less productive and not used on a grand scale.
As for batteries the diversity is just too numerous and complex for this article. I would not even scratch the surface in the space here. Battery research is omnipresent; some new material or chemistry comes out nearly everyday. However, I would like to ask you to keep graphene in mind. I believe it will be the ubiquitous atomic structure of the future. Even though it’s “just” another form of carbon, it will be these technologies that will someday make electrical energy storage fast, lightweight, and sustainable both in structure and output.
The most readily used means of electrical energy storage today is the battery. There are many types of batteries. In general the main problem with these storage systems is their lack of capacity. Additionally, battery systems are very bulky, they need maintenance and they can be a fire hazard. They also require a relatively long time to charge. The Carter administration proposed multifuel vehicles, this when Elon Musk was in grade school. One of these multifuels considered were batteries.