This will be a game-changer!The world of tomorrow has to be powered by clean and renewable sources of energy. We simply can't keep pumping toxins in the air that we breathe and messing with the composition of the atmosphere. But to get there, we not only need continued exponential growth in wind and solar power, but also lots and lots of energy storage capacity. Eventually.
It's not as crucial right now because intermittent sources of power are still a relatively small percentage of the total, but if we want to go much higher, at some point soon we'll need smarter power grids that can quickly shift energy from regions where there is a surplus to those that have a deficit and the capacity to store energy surpluses to act as a buffer against variability. Getting to that point is the holy grail of decarbonizing the electricity on which so much depends.
A new report by the World Energy Council provides some reassurances that this is a realistic scenario. The study, which is based on the work of over 20 industry experts and looks at the many new technologies that are in the R&D pipeline, forecasts that the storage costs of energy are projected to fall as much as 70% over the next 15 years. That's a massive difference, especially since the cost of wind and solar should also keep falling rapidly during the same period. In the near to medium term, nothing else will be cost competitive with a mix of renewables + storage.
The report also explains why the costs of storage are actually cheaper than they appear because of bad methodology: “We found clear indications that a narrow focus on costs alone drives the common misperception that electrical energy storage is more expensive than it really is,” said Gardner. The report calls for the true value of electrical energy storage to be recognised by taking into account revenue benefits (ie. storing power when there's a surplus and it is cheap, such as on a sunny, windy day, and selling it back when it is expensive, such as during peak demand time on a cloudy and non-windy day, can generate a lot of money, which helps pay for the storage).
Here are 5 policy changes that the authors call for:
- Think more than just cost. Cheapest is not always best.
- Look at storage through holistic case studies. It is not sufficient to only look at generic cost estimates.
- Work with both operators and regulators to accelerate the development of flexible markets.
- Make supporting policies and a regulatory framework to facilitate future commercial deployment of technology storage.
- View storage as an essential component for grid expansion or extension.
If you're curious about what kind of energy storage innovations are in the lab, check out grid-scale liquid metal batteries. If they can be made cheaply enough, these could truly be world-changing. But even if these never work, just getting lithium-ion batteries to be ever cheaper should do the trick over time...