The current technologies available for massive energy storage are not much better than a lake on a hill. With the growing needs for electricity, the limited capacities of these energy storage technologies are probably more suited for supplementing individual home alternative power systems. We need a major breakthrough in high density energy storage or an extremely efficient source of uninterrupted power. I don't think much will change until then.
Well stated, naperlou. I find it interesting that our heated discussions about solar, wind, hydro, biofuels, and fossil fuels are actually an argument over energy storage. Either collect the solar energy immediately, extract the energy from wind created by evaporating water, from condensed water, from short-term storage in living organisms, or extremely long-term storage in fossilized organisms in the form of petroleum and coal. So I guess our current debates have always been over our preferred energy capacitors...
William, I want to second that. Actually, Chuck stole my thunder. Just last night at an IEEE Committee meeting we were discussing this as a topic for a future meeting.
I have implemented flywheels as a backup for a data center. They are smaller and more environmentally friendly (and safer) than standard batteries.
The biggest issues, beyond cost, are two fold. One is the conservative nature of the utility industry. The other is the investment model.
The utility industry makes their money by providing a reliable source. It is highly regulated and therefore conservative in its approach. Based on their incentives, that makes sense. That is why you have states having to pass laws requiring target percentages of renewables and, now, batteries.
The investment model has served us very well. Most utitilities are funded through long term bonds. The government role is to provide regulation, and sometimes support, but generally the investor owned utility is privately funded and provides a steady profit. Thus, there is a disincentive to take risks, since most infrastructure has to last a couple of decades to justify the investment.
The upshot is that battery technology, like renewables, has to be "proven" in long term operations before utilities will routinely install them. Since the technology is so new, this might make sense. Let's hope the investors in these technologies have a long term view as well.
We are on the brink of a cataclysmic change as the whole world shifts from Petroleum to Electricity. There is a great abundance of opportunities, and needs, for new energy technologies. It feels like an overfilled water-balloon ready to burst. Efficient and dense energy storage is way overdue. At the pace we are transitioning to Electrical Energy I believe our motivation will evolve from convenience to survival. Then many solutions will quickly surface.
Thanks for a fantastically detailed and comprehensive article, Chuck! It stands to reason that the electricity grid will be wildly more efficient and economical when we have on-line storage within the distribution system. Just imagine how wasteful things would be if we did not have warehouses, stockrooms, and distribution centers for material goods, or reservoirs and tanks for water and petroleum storage. Even the use of capacitors within electronic circuits permit amazing systems to be designed.
This of course is not a new observation, but the technology required to realize efficient, large-scale electricity storage is new. Let's hope the promise of a new market with huge demand is enough to spur further development...
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