Why Better Energy Storage Matters
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Energy Digital.
Renewable energy, by nature, is unreliable.
Solar panels require sunlight, wind turbines require wind, hydroelectric requires flowing water and so on. Unfortunately, not all of these are always readily available. In somewhere like Scotland, which is a generally cloudy country, solar power isn’t a preferable choice of renewable energy. California’s drought is wreaking havoc on the hydroelectric industry.
On the other hand, sometimes there can be abundance of sunlight or wind, which results in the production of more energy than needed. Currently, this excess energy is often times not being used and is essentially wasted. This is often a major criticism of renewable energy and one the industry has been working to address for some time.
As it turns out, the solution is a concept we’re all familiar with: storage.
Saving it for Later
While the science and engineering behind energy storage is quite complex, the idea is simple. For example, a solar farm with a storage system–say, a large battery–can save up that extra energy generated during sunnier days and use it on the days on which less energy is generated. This solves much of the problem with the intermittency of renewable energy.
The applications are also extremely broad, with storage serving a purpose in both the commercial and residential sectors. In the residential solar sector, storage is expected to see a tenfold growth by 2018. In part, this is because the incentives to have a home solar storage system are so great. Not only does it allow for energy independence during times of crisis, but even using stored energy daily rather than buying energy from the grid can lead to major cost savings.
“Another thing that can help make the solar plus storage combo attractive sooner is time of use (TOU) pricing,” Zachary Shahan wrote for CleanTechnica. “Electricity demand is greater in the afternoon and early evening. Some utilities have switched to charging more at high-demand times and less at low-demand times, like in the middle of the night. This makes a lot of sense, but it also makes storing electricity generated at lower-demand times, like the morning, and using it at peak demand times more sensible.”
Not all countries will see this major growth, however. There are several major regions that will be the largest drivers of this transition. In particular, Germany, Australia, Italy, and the UK, are expected to account for 40 percent of the growth by 2018, with California and Hawaii expected to be important markets.
Also driving this growth is the falling cost of the batteries themselves, with lithium ion expected to see a major drop in the coming year.
“My personal view is that we underestimate the impact of storage,” John Ryan, an associate secretary of the federal Department of Industry in Australia, said. “We are starting to see it with hybrid vehicles and I think we’ll see bigger changes.”
Imergy Power Systems
One company making strides in the storage of energy is California-based Imergy Power Systems.
Imergy Power specializes in a proprietary, vanadium based flow battery system, which is the most cost-effective energy storage technology available today. The flow batteries store energy in a liquid electrolyte that circulates between tanks, allowing for a simple design that creates a robust and efficient system that can be cycled thousands of times in a year, and charged and discharged completely without impact on its lifespan. This also allows for customizable sizing for the batteries, allowing each storage project to be tailored to its specific needs. Its latest project is the long-term storage battery called the ESP 30, which can store up to 200 kWh of energy.
Also unique about Imergy’s battery is its utilization of a single element: vanadium. Other batteries, such as a car batter or lithium ion battery, utilize multiple elements. The vanadium can act in four different phases, essentially allowing it to act as two different elements.
“Why that is important is very simple,” Imergy President Tim Hennessy explained. “All batteries die after time. The natural reaction that occurs in the charging and the discharging causes damage to the elements or the structure within the battery. If you leave your car lights on all night, you come back in the morning and you just can’t get that battery to ever recover. The same thing happens if you discharge your cell phone rapidly by taking the battery from 100 to 0 percent very rapidly. You’ll find you don’t get a recovery in the cell battery life.”
Imergy’s Vanadium Advantage
According to Hennessy, the vanadium batter doesn’t have this type of impact because it’s vanadium on both sides.
“In 100 years time,” he said, “whatever you put in there is what you’ll get back. All the bad things that can be thrown at it that we see in the real world can be thrown at it and it will continue to function.”
Vanadium can also be obtained sustainably from waste sources, making it a greener option.
“That’s the Imergy difference,” Hennessy said. “They all require incredibly pure vanadium, around 99.6 percent pure. What we have done is created the same vanadium benefits, but we’ve gone three steps further.”
The first step of that is the reclamation of less pure vanadium from waste such as fly ash or mining slag that can be used in the batteries. This leads to a major decrease in cost without sacrificing of quality. This is also preferable because of its sustainable nature. Also important is the ability of the batteries to operate at high temperatures–up to around 130̊ Fahrenheit–without needing to cool it. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, with Imergy’s battery, there is no degradation, allowing for long-term deployment in more extreme regions.
Hennessy said for storage to be truly successful, it needs to allow for the proper distribution of power during peak times of day, which are generally from 4 to 7 pm. This is demonstrated in what’s called the “Duck Curve,” or the chart showing the peak hours of energy generation and its potential overgeneration. By storing the extra power generated during the day and using it then, it’s possible to reduce demand from the grid and ensure power is distributed evenly, rather than in the shape of a duck.
“You look at distribution by going down to the end users and addressing the issues there,” Hennessy explained, “which cumulatively add up at the top to help the overall grid by reducing the peak demands that the grid faces. That has a massive impact on what we do and what we need as a society.”
Storing the Anticipation
Imergy’s systems are going in several places around the world, including California and Hawaii. Oncor, another company working on storage solutions in Texas, are also deploying a large-scale project, though it’s up to the public utilities commission in Texas whether it moves forward.
“Is an unprecedented energy storage deployment on the horizon for Texas?” asks Scientific American’s Robert Fares. “That depends on the Public Utility Commission. Regardless, I think it is clear Oncor’s proposal has the potential to fundamentally change how we make and distribute electricity in the future.”
But Forbes contributor Peter Kelly-Detwiler believes that stories such as these storage project deployments won’t be noteworthy for much longer.
“Whether for small systems or large ones, the announcements for projects will accelerate until they are soon no longer newsworthy,” he wrote. “The storage market appears poised to take off with very real and cost-effective solutions.”
In the world of renewable energy, storage very much matters and it’s time to take note.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere