Power Storage: A Need Gaining Speed

28 Aug 2020

The further you may be from the electrical grid, the more likely it is that you recognize the importance of energy storage. If you have access to abundant, reliable energy, then consider how far you would travel without a cell phone battery pack. An extra battery allows you to turn a blind eye to your phone’s power level, then simply plug in and the stored energy rehabilitates your device, even without an outlet.

On a small scale like a cell phone, power storage is useful. On a larger scale, it could be revolutionary.

It is important to highlight the criticality of innovation and power storage in the electricity sector. New power development may allow for greener futures, but if we cannot store that power and use it later, we are back where we started, reliant on fossil fuels 24/7. Concentrating on how innovative developments in technology continue to evolve gives us a glimpse of the future of power availability.

Currently development of wind and solar power allow us to use peak sunlight and wind hours to generate power from freely flowing resources. The problem is when the sun isn’t shining – at night or behind clouds – and when the wind is not blowing. We must have a way to collect the energy these methods generate to use later, or when demand fluctuates.

The average household in the U.S. uses about 30 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy each day, and a solar panel system with three solar batteries would have enough stored energy to power a household using nothing but stored energy. Solar and wind facilities both need storage to collect surplus energy during peak production and supply energy when the sunlight is unavailable and wind is downtempo. While it’s easier to map the responsibility of a solar battery, it becomes punishing to imagine how to capture and preserve air in motion. Wind speeds moving from six to eight meters per second (m/s) are necessary for generating power, and of course, not all wind speeds are suitable for producing energy. Moreover, wind farms generate most of their energy during the night when the demand for electricity is at its lowest.

With time, comes the inevitable expansion and emergence of advanced storage technologies aimed at bolstering the U.S. energy economy. As of August 13, 2020, Technology & Services platform Vistra, approved the upgrade for an energy storage system in Monterey, California to 1,500 MW/6,000 MWh. Compared to its counterparts, this gargantuan battery storage installation will hold the capacity of more than any – and all –currently in the country combined, elevating it as the largest in the world. Storing energy from wind and solar resources to level variability will also help bridge away from fossil fuels. All in all, greenhouse gas emissions and environmental repercussions are reduced as a result of power storage, as well as our dependence on fossil fuels.

Investing in energy storage creates long-term reliability and security, like a savings account. This is an enabling technology that researchers continually work on. Not only does it provide backup power (flexibility) for the time of disruptions or insufficiency, but also smoother delivery. Teams of devoted researchers are pushing for the new frontier of energy storage, imagining and planning the development of new battery innovations. JCESR, recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), conducts research on battery performance.

The team focuses on material diversification; JCESR handles transformative materials and observes how they behave with a targeted role in mind by using a methodology known as constructionist “bottom up” atom-by-atom and molecule-by-molecule materials design. A breakthrough in battery science and technology would permanently transform the nature of battery and electrochemical science.

Stanford University introduced a research division called Bits & Watts in 2016, focused on innovations for the nation’s electric grid. Stanford scientists and engineers recognize the intermittency problem by developing new batteries, fuel cells, and other technologies to store surplus renewable power. Wind turbines and solar cells continue generating electricity even when demand is low but there is no way to transfer that surplus energy over onto today’s grid.

The Stanford researchers also examined battery types – lead-acid, lithium-ion, sodium-sulfur, vanadium-redox and zinc-bromine; they studied how much energy is used in each battery’s lifespan and calculated the energetic cost of curtailing solar and wind power to the cost of grid-scale storage.

Farther-reaching ideas include compressed air storage, pumped water storage, and even stacked weights. Redefining what a battery can even be is the task of innovators building the future of power storage.

Lithium-ion batteries are the most popular battery storage option today, dominating more than 90 percent of the global grid battery storage market. Their rapidly declining costs are due in part to the growing popularity of electric vehicles; however, flow batteries are suited for longer duration storage. These giant devices use tanks of electrolytes are capable of storing enough electricity to power thousands of homes for hours on end. While lithium-ion batteries have a head start in grid-scale applications, flow batteries may be an answer for wind and solar energy.


Written by Andrew Jefferis, Media Coordinator