Moving Towards the Battery Breakthrough
The energy world is seemingly always one or two technologies away from a paradigm shift. The pairing of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal well drilling set of the shale boom and helped bring prices down from their $100+ per barrel echelon to the $50 range they exist in today. The Next Big Thing in energy, environmentalists tell us, is renewable energy, and wind and solar prices are starting to fall far enough to make them competitive with fossil fuels (in certain places and under certain conditions) without subsidies.
But renewables have a critical structural flaw: they can only supply power when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. That intermittency makes them incapable of toppling fossil fuels the key components of a national (or global) energy mix, but lest we depress greens too much, there is a solution—energy storage. At the moment, we lack the sort of cost-effective, commercially scalable battery technology necessary to help even out the stop-and-go supply tendencies of renewables, but as the FT reports, storage options have increased dramatically in recent years:
“In 2016 there was almost 1,100 megawatt hours of utility-scale energy storage commissioned. There has been a huge ramp-up in the past two years,” says Julia Attwood of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). BNEF’s figures cover all storage technologies but lithium-ion batteries are now the storage technology “to beat”, according to analysts. […]
While costs of batteries are coming down, [Sam Wilkinson of IHS Markit] acknowledges that in most cases “incentives are required” to expand the market for battery storage to help balance the grid. “Costs have come down dramatically but there is still a long way to go before they are going to be truly embedded everywhere in the grid and we’ll see huge volumes of them,” Mr Wilkinson says.
Of course, speaking in absolute terms, energy storage deployment is still just a tiny fraction of what it needs to be in order to complement even the relatively small amount of wind and solar farms our planet currently supports, let alone the quantities of renewable energy greens imagine is just around the corner.