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Battery Storage: Paving the Way for Renewable Energy
Renewable energy is energy that comes from natural resources or processes that are continuously replenished. The primary forms include solar energy, hydroelectric power, and tidal and wave energy. It may come as a surprise to hear that some are more environmentally friendly than others.
One of the major challenges facing solar energy companies is less about how efficiently we generate energy and more about what is done with all the power that can now be produced. With the reliance on lithium-ion batteries in so many other industries, it has also become an economical solution for the solar energy industry.
There are many technology companies out there trying to create the next big energy storage solution. These diverse methods vary from using abundant raw materials, such as volcanic rocks, tanks full of liquid air, and systems that drop weights down into abandoned mine shafts.
There are many great ways to invest in energy, and with the solar industry’s projected growth, solar investing is one of the most exciting opportunities out there. It not only has the potential to be a lucrative investment, but is also a way to support the environment.
Solar is fueling a clean energy revolution. Renewable power is thriving due to innovation bringing down the costs and creating confidence in a clean energy-driven future. Solar power generation projects are breaking records all around the world and are being incorporated into national electricity grids without compromising dependability. This is thanks to an improved storage solution: lithium-ion batteries.
With lithium-ion batteries now on the scene, green energy sources are now displacing fossil fuels in the power sectors. Renewable energy is offering the advantages of producing lower levels of carbon emissions and other pollutants.
In this article, we will be exploring questions such as: what exactly is renewable energy, what do batteries have to do with it, and will lithium-ion batteries mean there will soon be no need for fossil fuels in the future?
What Is Renewable Energy?
It simply refers to the energy that comes from natural resources or processes that are continuously replenished.
We often hear the term “renewable energy” and “clean energy”, but what does it mean exactly? It simply refers to the energy that comes from natural resources or processes that are continuously replenished. For example, the wind and sun keep blowing and shining forever, even if their availability relies on the weather or time. These resources are unlikely to run out anytime soon, unlike non-renewables, such as coal or oil.
Renewable energy is often thought of as new technology. However, we have been harnessing the power of nature throughout history. It has long been used for lighting, heating, transportation, and more. For example, we have used the wind to power sailboats, windmills to grind grains, and the sun to help ignite fires.
During the past 500 years, we have increasingly turned to coal and fracked gas, which is dirtier but cheaper to produce. Like many things, it comes down to economics- and with the global hunger for easily accessible energy, fossil fuels became our primary source of energy.
Non-renewable, or “dirty,” energy includes sources such as fossil fuels like gas, oil, and coal. Non-renewable sources of energy are very restricted as they are available in limited amounts only, and take a very long time to replenish. When we are filling our cars at the petrol station, we are tapping into a limited resource refined from crude oil that has been around for thousands of years.
Non-renewable energy sources are usually found in particular parts of the world. This makes them more abundant in some nations than others. However, with renewable energy, every country has access to resources like sunshine and wind. Prioritizing renewable energy can also potentially improve national security, as it reduces a national reliance on exports from fossil fuel-rich governments.
Many non-renewable energy sources can also cause damage to the environment and human health. For example, oil drilling may involve strip-mining Canada’s boreal forest, coal power plants pollute the air, and the technology associated with fracking can cause both earthquakes and water pollution. To make things worse, all these activities also contribute to global warming.
The future of energy is now looking much greener with increasingly innovative and less-expensive ways to capture and retain renewable energy. Renewables are now becoming a more significant energy source in the power industry. The development in renewables is happening at scales both large and small, from rooftop solar panels being installed on homes to sprawling offshore wind farms. There are even now some entire rural communities that rely on renewable energy for their lighting and heating. As renewable energy use continues to grow, a key goal will be to modernize the electricity grids worldwide, making them more innovative, secure, and better integrated across regions.
What Kinds of Renewable Energy Sources Are There?
Renewable energy options currently available are more environmentally friendly than others
There are many types of established renewable energy sources out there, and scientists are continuing to find new ways to generate power in environmentally friendly ways. Due to our greater understanding of how much damage non-renewable energy can inflict on the planet, the need to further develop renewable energy processes has become essential. Here are some of the main kinds of renewable sources currently being implemented:
- Solar Energy – As a species, we have been harnessing solar energy for thousands of years. It may not have come to mind when we usually think of renewables, but we use solar energy to grow crops, dry foods, and keep us warm. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported that more energy from the sun descends on the planet in one hour than is used by each person in the world in one year. As our knowledge of solar has improved, we can now use the sun’s rays in many ways, from heating our homes and businesses, to warming water, and now even to charging up power devices.
Solar cells (scientifically referred to as photovoltaic (P.V.)) are made from silicone or other materials that convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar energy systems do not produce any air pollutants or greenhouse gases. As long as they are correctly situated, most solar panels have a minimal environmental impact beyond the manufacturing process.
- Wind Energy – Wind technology has come a long way from picturesque old-fashioned wooden windmills. Modern turbines are now as tall as a skyscraper, with turbines nearly as wide in diameter. Turbines are getting bigger and bigger, with some over half the height of the Shard in London (the tallest building in Europe).
The wind energy turns the turbine’s blades, which feeds an electric generator to produce electricity. The giant turbines being installed can generate around 12MW of power, which is enormous when compared to other production methods. A general rule is the more substantial the turbine, the more energy it can capture from the wind. This is because of the larger rotors with higher mega wattage and longer blades. Being tall is also helpful, as wind generally moves faster at higher altitudes.
- Hydroelectric Power – Hydropower relies on the water, typically rapid-moving water in a large river or swiftly descending water from a high point. It then converts the force of the water into electricity by rotating a generator’s turbine blades. A plant that generates below 40 megawatts is classified as a small hydroelectric plant. They are carefully designed and managed in order not to cause too much environmental damage, only diverting a fraction of the natural water flows.
Due to their damaging effect on the environment, large hydro plants (or mega-dams) are generally considered to be non-renewable energy. These larger hydro plants can divert and reduce natural water flows, which can, in turn, restrict access for animals and human populations that depend on rivers.
- Ocean – The sea can also be used to generate tidal and wave energy. This type of renewable energy is still very much in a developmental phase, but there is hope it will be an attractive option in the future, as the moon’s gravitational pull will always rule the ocean in much the same way as the wind will always blow in the sky, or the sun will always come with a warming shine.
There is a little concern about this method of renewable energy, however, as some tidal energy approaches could potentially cause harm to wildlife. For example, tidal barrages work similarly to dams, and need to be situated in an ocean bay or lagoon. Much like tidal power, wave power depends on dam-like constructions or ocean floor-anchored contraptions on or beneath the water’s surface, which is not ideal for marine life or habitat conservation.
As we can see from the above renewable energy options currently available, some are more environmentally friendly than others. There is also a slight problem when it comes to storing renewable energy, but a solution has been found within solar energy. When solar technology news hit the industry, everyone was very excited to hear about the possibilities of lithium-ion batteries. However, before we look to the future, let’s look a little closer at the renewable energy storage problem.
Is There a Renewable Energy Storage Problem?
The dilemma of how to store solar energy is actually much more challenging than figuring out how to generate solar energy in the first place.
Solar energy is quickly replacing many unrenewable energy sources due to solar technology becoming much more economical. One of the biggest challenges facing mainstream solar power is now less about how efficiently we generate energy and more about what we do with all the energy that we are now able to produce. The dilemma of how to store solar energy is actually much more challenging than figuring out how to generate solar energy in the first place.
Unlike fossil fuel, solar energy production is less predictable, as you are reliant on the sun. The amount of energy that can be produced can fluctuate from season to season and even hour to hour. Solar energy is only generated during daylight when the sun is shining directly on the solar panels. At night, the panels are not generating any energy for several hours. We like to have electricity available at all hours, so there was a need to devise a storage system for saving some of the energy that is produced during peak sunlight hours so that it can be accessed later when the sun has gone down.
Solar power companies have invested a lot of time and money into the storage problem. Luckily, with the arrival of Tesla’s Powerwall and some of the other new storage options, large lithium-ion batteries are taking a step in the right direction for solar energy. Due to the reliance on lithium-ion batteries in so many other industries, these batteries are smaller, lightweight, and easier to produce than the solar energy storage solutions of the past. In addition to this, they are very low maintenance and can cope with going through frequent deep cycle charges (without damage) for many years.
There are many older solar energy storage systems that still rely on older battery technologies and will not be as effective. For example, early adopters of solar panels were understood to link together a chain of lead-acid batteries to produce their own storage matrix. These systems were influential in their time, but as those systems fade out, more and more solar supporters are turning to lithium-ion batteries in order to achieve better storage results.
Solar power investment is needed to upgrade dated solar technology and further push renewable energy. There are many fantastic ways to invest in energy, and with the projected growth of the solar industry, solar investing is one of the most exciting opportunities out there. With more and more people investing in solar energy companies, will it provide the money needed to support further storage advancements?
Will Something Replace Lithium-ion Batteries?
Despite the various advantages of these technologies, it is going to be very hard to beat the manufacturing scale of lithium-ion batteries.
Battery technology companies are racing to develop the next big breakthrough that will unlock large-scale renewable energy storage capacity by the middle of the century. The current options being looked at include technologies that use abundant raw materials, such as volcanic rocks, tanks full up of liquid air, and systems that drop weights down into abandoned mine shafts.
These alternative technologies could facilitate safer storage of large amounts of energy for longer amounts of time, which would permit even greater integration of solar energy into the grid. To be able to enable this, these power storage solutions will need to be scaled up promptly in order to meet rising demand and become cost-competitive.
There are some projects out there that are taking huge steps in making solar energy’s future even more successful. Here are some of the exciting renewable energy storage projects well on their way:
- Invinity Energy Systems – In January 2020, the California Energy Commission (the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency) released a tender for long-duration energy storage. They were searching for a solution that could provide energy storage for over 10 hours, or adequately store a day’s worth of solar energy for overnight use.
One of the winning submissions was by a company called Invinity Energy Systems. They use huge batteries based on vanadium (a raw material used by the steel industry) to boost the metal’s strength. First developed by NASA in the 1970s, these redox flow batteries use large tanks of separately charged electrolytes to store up energy, which makes it simpler to expand capacity than with conventional batteries.
- Rongke Power – In northeast China, in the centre of Dalian, Rongke Power is constructing the world’s largest vanadium battery. They have designed a mega battery to help the electricity grid of Liaoning province better integrate wind power. It’s power is estimated at a massive 800 megawatt-hours (MWh), which would be more than three times the scope of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery installation, which is located in California.
Unfortunately, vanadium prices are extremely volatile. For example, in November 2018, the price surged to $127 per kg and then fell to $25 in 2020. This may possibly have a massive effect on the cost of production.
- Siemens Gamesa – In Germany, just outside the city of Hamburg, Siemens Gamesa is running the world’s second-largest wind turbine manufacturer. It uses 1,000 tonnes of Norwegian volcanic rock to store 130 MWh of energy in the form of heat. This delivers enough power for around 750 electric cars or 3,000 German households. Electricity is used first to heat the volcanic rocks to at least 600°C. The power can be stored for up to a week, but they are aiming to be able to dispatch power overnight.
There are some other companies that are looking for storage options that avoid batteries altogether. They are attempting a more natural and physical solution, similar to pumped hydro. This method uses electricity to pump water up to a high-level reservoir, and then releases it. The water then drives a turbine to create even more electricity. The reservoir of water acts as a means of storing energy. There are some disadvantages to this form of the system, as they are retracted by geography and could be limited by increasing water shortages.
Despite the various advantages of these technologies, it is going to be very hard to beat the manufacturing scale of lithium-ion batteries. This is due to reliance on renewable energy companies and the surge of investment over the past decade put into electric cars.
The future of energy storage is unlikely to rely on one type of battery, such as lithium-ion. Instead, renewable energy storage will depend on a mixture of fast-response, high-debt tech and slower, high-volume systems. Each option has its pros and cons, which often rely on geography, so flexibility toward stacking multiple different types of storage is most likely the way storage solutions are going.
In the meantime, however, it does not look like lithium-ion batteries are going anywhere soon. They are a fantastic storage solution for solar power and will continue to improve with technological advancements. Battery storage, for now, is paving the way for renewable energy.
What are lithium-ion batteries?
A lithium-ion battery (also referred to as a li-ion battery) is a type of rechargeable battery. Lithium-ion batteries are generally used for portable electronics such as phones and tablets, electric vehicles, and growing popularity as storage for solar-generated energy.
Are lithium-ion batteries dangerous?
One of the main concerns around safety is the fact that the main line of defence against the lithium-ion battery short-circuiting is thin. However, the lithium-ion system is safe as long as certain precautions are met when charging and discharging. It is currently one of the most successful and safe battery chemistries available.
How long do lithium-ion rechargeable batteries last?
The average estimated life of a lithium-ion battery is between two to three years, or 300 to 500 charge cycles (whichever occurs first). One charge cycle is considered a period of use from fully charged to fully discharged and fully recharged again.
What happens to batteries after they can no longer be used?
What happens to the lithium-ion batteries after they have reached the end of their life cycle is something the solar industry is still trying to tackle. The batteries can be recycled, but the consumers, solar companies, and manufacturers need to take responsibility for their environmentally friendly disposal.
Could batteries make fossil fuels obsolete?
One of the most significant obstacles to renewable energy is its cycling between oversupply when the sun is shining or the sun sets. By levelling imbalances between supply and demand, batteries could replace the need for fossil fuel top-up plants that kick in for periods of the day when energy demands increase.