No Huge Energy Storage Breakthrough Needed For Renewable Energy To Flourish
In the last couple of years, there has been a growing a number of news articles and blog posts published about energy storage, particularly in the form of battery systems. This interest is very reasonable and the news is exciting because these systems can fill in wind power and solar power electricity production gaps. In many places, they could replace gas-powered peaker plants. The costs have gotten that low for renewables + storage. This has actually been the case in some places since 2016, but the story keeps getting better and the solution is competitive in more and more locations practically by the day. (In fact, this was the key topic of the podcast we just published.)
“New research suggests that solar power and battery energy storage are now competitive with natural gas peaker plants due to falling costs. The research focuses on specific markets in the USA but forecasts that 10 GW of natural gas peaker plants could be taken offline by 2027. Other, more aggressive predictions say 2020 could be the year,” one energy storage journalist nicely summarized the latest news.
Tesla’s huge battery system in Australia has also generated some buzz. The system went up considerably quicker than Elon Musk promised, has been working as imagined, and has even been influencing prices in the region. It was the largest lithium-ion battery storage to be implemented anywhere in the world, but it’ll likely be average within a few years.
Energy storage in the form of battery systems can be integrated for greater energy security, for grid support, and to be installed in places where pumped hydro isn’t feasible.
However, it appears as though pumped hydro storage is being overlooked with all the hype about batteries. It still has huge potential to help balance clean, renewable energy. In fact, all the discourse about battery storage seems to be supporting the idea that this form of storage is going to solve clean energy intermittency issues, but there are gaps in what batteries can provide, so let’s take a look at pumped hydro so we can see just how large a factor it could become.
In Australia, there are apparently about 22,000 potential pumped hydro energy storage sites — more than enough to cover the country’s needs. “PHES can readily be developed to balance the grid with any amount of solar and wind power, all the way up to 100%, as ageing coal-fired power stations close.”
We see clearly that, in this case, no giant energy storage breakthrough is needed to transition Australia to a majority renewable share, and perhaps eventually reach 100% renewables.
As mentioned previously, energy storage is very important to fill in the lulls in solar and wind power. One advantage pumped hydro storage has it that is has been operating for many decades, so it is an established technology with a tremendous capacity.
In the US, there isn’t as much pumped hydro potential as in Australia, but it can still play a big role. A study published on Energy.gov found it could help support a goal of reaching 80% renewable energy in the US. “At present, there are about 50 proposed projects that could add more than 40 GW of new storage capacity. There is also interest in upgrading existing fixed-speed units to adjustable speed technology. It is very difficult to estimate the need for energy storage in the future power grid, but one recent study indicates that more than 100 GW of energy storage will be deployed in a future scenario for 2050 with 80 percent renewable energy.”
A US Department of Energy (DOE) report published several years ago found pumped storage could help balance renewables when they achieve a 45% national share. “But between 2030 and 2050, the study foresees solar and wind rising to a 45% US grid penetration, driving the development of a remarkable 35.5 GW of new PSH to balance the variable generation.”
As one project example, Dominion Energy is looking into the development of a $1.8 billion dollar pumped hydro facility in Virginia. It already operates one in Bath County that can reportedly provide electricity up to 750,000 homes. (Of course, this is just one project and a very many more will be required.)
Everyone who follows renewable energy knows that German is a world leader in this technology and that it is utilizing pumped storage. At this time, Germany has about 7 GW of this energy storage capacity, but that number could be increased to 16 GW for a 60% renewable energy share or 23 GW for a 80% share. “In the second scenario, when the share of renewable energies takes up 80%, the effect of pumped storage systems can be improved, because their assumed total output of 23GW by 2050 allows the following advantages: 5TWh of renewable energies will be additionally integrated into the grid.“
Where will it come from? It appears that Germany has the potential to develop what it needs to achieve such goals — “a recent study by the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) Aachen University and Voith indicates there is potential to add to nearly 24 GW of new pumped-storage capacity in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia.” So, pumped storage looks like it should play quite a role in helping Germany move away from coal and nuclear power.