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The Future of Battery Storage: Part 1
MARCH 17, 2021 | MATT ROBINSON
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a large increase in customers opting to install battery storage along with their solar panels. Batteries enable you to capture any surplus electricity you generate and save it for later use. This increases your energy security and maximises the financial and carbon savings associated with your solar panels. This week, our Head of Sustainability, Matt, is sharing his professional insights on where the battery storage market is heading.
Why The World Needs Battery Storage
At any given moment, the supply of electricity throughout the country must be balanced with the demand. This balancing act is going to get tougher as we transition to a low-carbon future. Think about it this way: if you’ve got the lights switched on at the moment, they are probably being powered by electricity that was generated just a few moments ago, in a power station miles away. However, renewable energy sources like the sun and wind are intermittent. We can’t switch them on, and we can’t guarantee when they’re going to be generating electricity.
This is where batteries come in. We need to be able to capture renewable energy during periods of high generation and save it for later, to make sure we can meet electricity demand at all times. To keep warming below the recommended 2 degree threshold, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the world needs 266 GW of energy storage by 2030.
To put that into context, a typical household battery that gets installed alongside a domestic solar panel system has a capacity of around 5 kWh. This means we would need 53,200,000 residential batteries to reach the IEA’s energy storage goal!
In reality, most of this energy storage will be held in utility scale plants. The largest currently in operation is Tesla’s Hornsdale Project in Australia (left). It has a capacity of 150 MWh, so we’d need a massive 1,773 of these plants to reach the IEA’s target.
The Batteries of Today
Most batteries we use today are lithium-ion batteries. And we’re not just talking about energy storage in homes and businesses – lithium-ion batteries are used in your phone and laptop as well. They were created in 1980 by three scientists – John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino – who have all won Nobel Prizes for their work in battery storage chemistry.
The batteries are made up of two ‘electrodes’ (positively and negatively charged metals) at either end, with an ‘electrolyte solution’ (liquid that conducts electricity) in between. This electrolyte solution is made from lithium salt.
When it was first introduced, the lithium-ion battery offered numerous advantages in comparison to its predescesor, the lead-acid battery. For example, lithium-ion batteries have greater capacity, efficiency and power density. They re-charge faster and can react quickly to fluctuations in demand. They are more durable, lasting longer and performing better at cold temperatures.
The Lithium-Ion Battery - How Perfect Is It?
The lithium ion battery revolutionised the energy storage market by allowing for scalable storage capacity. It has been widely adopted since its inception. However, it is not without its drawbacks.
Firstly, as well as supporting household and grid-level storage, lithium-ion batteries are used in almost all portable devices, electric vehicles and household appliances. As a result, demand has skyrocketed and supply chains have been stretched. This has led to questionable mining practices in the sourcing of the batteries’ metals, which raise both environmental and social concerns. For example, there are well-documented issues surrounding child labour within the Democratic Republic of Congo and the multinational organisations that operate within it.
On top of this, the metals used within lithium-ion batteries are rare and are not always easily recycled. This could lead to production issues when batteries currently in existence become redundant 10 or 20 years down the line.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some good options out there for recycling these batteries though. Check out the solar panel and battery storage system on Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff Arena (left) – it utilises old lithium-ion batteries from Nissan Leaf vehicles!
What Other Battery Technologies Are Available?
What we can conclude so far is that lithium-ion batteries have numerous advantages and have been extremely useful in the development of energy storage. However, to meet the 266GW of storage that the IEA tells us we require, we need to diversify our thinking and not rely on just one singular technology.
Keep your eyes peeled for next week’s blog, when I will be delving into three up-and-coming options I feel have a place in future battery storage.
Interested in battery storage? Here at Cactus Energy, we have experience installing battery storage systems for domestic and commercial customers across a range of sectors. We can install batteries independently (for the purpose of grid balancing), with solar panels or even integrate a battery to an existing solar panel system. Find out more below…