‘Pieter de Vries is the brains trust behind Contained Energy. If it’s giving advice on renewable energy systems or transforming the planet through clean energy solutions, Pieter is your man.’
What’s On The Horizon?
Long-lived rechargeable batteries to ensure 24/7 power source
The effects of technological advances in energy storage techniques has the capacity to revolutionise the energy industry over the next few years. As we continue to increase the amount of energy we can store — and at the same time lowering the cost of this — the need to create electricity ad-hoc will diminish, substantially changing and simplifying the energy process.
At the heart of this are long-lived rechargeable batteries that can turn solar and wind electricity into a 24/7 power source as reliable as coal. Currently, the industry standard lithium-ion battery made famous by Tesla is the leading solution, having itself undergone many revolutionary developments. But as the demand for high-range energy storage increases, so too will the need for other options.
Here’s a look at what’s been happening and what will happen in the bid to address intermittency issues in renewable energy sources — namely wind and solar.
Lithium-ion technology has improved enormously, mainly as a result of their utilisation in the EV automotive industry. Take the Tesla Powerwall. The amount of electricity it stores by weight or density is improved considerably and in many markets, it pays by storing energy when it is cheap (e.g. when the sun shines) and releasing it when it is expensive (at night). The large lithium-ion battery pack, when connected to solar panels, can also enable a household to disconnect completely from the grid. As a result of widespread application, prices are dropping at a great rate, making this an attractive proposition.
Chart showing the correlation between battery cost deductions and rise in battery energy density. (Source: Clean Technica)
However, science tells us that lithium is already reaching the outer limits of its potential. While it’s still the best option at the moment, experts say lithium battery technology has almost reached the limits of its capabilities. In other words, new technologies will be needed.
Innovation beyond lithium
Already, lithium sulphur and lithium air batteries are proving capable replacements.
The next step is transitioning to different metals. Science again suggests lithium supply will eventually run out, meaning sodium, magnesium, calcium or zinc could take over. One interesting development is that of zinc air batteries and, more specifically Fluidic Energy — a commercial-scale, zinc-air battery firm that has conducted numerous trials in Indonesia and operates a manufacturing plant here.
Zinc energy storage has been around for a while, but its lifespan was always a concern. Now, Fluidic Energy claims to have solved that issue, marketing themselves as the number one solution for long-duration applications such as solar panels.
Their CEO, Steve Scharnhorst, told Green Tech Media that applications needing three to four hours in duration were best served by lead-acid or lithium batteries, with neither performing well over five hours. He also raised the point that long-duration energy storage was quite expensive at $300 to $400 per kilowatt-hour. He said: “Our sweet spot is four to 24 hours and at $200 to $300 per kilowatt-hour we’re ready to serve the long-duration market.”
Another interesting development lies with ‘aquous’ batteries such as those produced by GE and Aquion, offering unique saltwater battery chemistry made from abundant, nontoxic materials. Thousands of cycles and deep cycling capability means greater usable energy which results in competitive up-front costs and little or no maintenance costs.
This increase in life and lower costs is particularly crucial given the long-term goal to turn solar and wind electricity into a reliable 24/7 power source. Potentially, different battery types catering for different applications will become the cornerstone for green, clean energy across all levels — residential and commercial.
For Contained Energy, this means our 10 year plan to make solar power available in Indonesia without high up-front investments is all the more possible. Basically, the more energy we can store, the lower we can set our solar leasing rates.
As an industry leader, I’m very keen to observe how rapidly these advancements take shape. Should the battery landscape explode in the nest two years, we could see another giant step in the reliance on renewable energy.
Until next time,
Pieter de Vries
Founder and Chief Technology Officer