Can Battery Technology Make Renewable Energy More Reliable?
In 2016, global renewable energy production capacity rose by 8.7 percent. In the same year, the world’s new solar energy capacity was at 71 gigawatts (GW). Wind energy and hydropower had 51 GW and 31 GW of new capacity, respectively. Overall, 153 GW of renewable energy can power over 100 million homes.
There are challenges regarding the reliability of renewable energy, however. Solar panels and wind turbines work effectively on sunny or windy days. What happens on days when there is not much sunlight or wind? This is where battery technology steps in, storing excess solar and wind energy to be used on cloudy or non-windy days.
Increased usage of renewable energy is considered one of the most effective ways to achieve sustainability. Battery technology helps boost renewable energy use by ensuring its dependability. When energy consumers have the confidence that renewable energy can be reliable, they are more inclined to use it, an important step to achieving sustainability.
Drivers behind Battery Technology for Renewable Energy Storage
Batteries have long been used to power various equipment, machinery and vehicles. In recent years, battery technology has also been used for renewable energy storage. This development is the result of several drivers:
- The growth of the world’s renewable energy production capacity –The world is producing substantially increased amounts of renewable energy. By storing excess renewable energy for future use, battery technology helps meet future demands despite possible fluctuations in supply.
- The need to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – One of the main goals of the Paris Agreement is to keep global warming below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels. To attain this objective, governments are retiring coal plants and replacing these with renewable energy facilities. Battery technology is instrumental in maintaining the stability of renewable energy facilities. In case a renewable energy facility goes offline, batteries will help continue the delivery of renewable energy to consumers. The stable delivery of renewable energy will reduce the need for fossil fuel-based energy, lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and addressing global warming in the process.
- The need to expand and modernize energy infrastructure – According to the 2017 report commissioned by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), Energy Storage Trends and Opportunities in Emerging Markets, approximately 30 percent of the world’s population do not have electricity access. Building conventional power lines can be costly and time-consuming, especially in developing countries. Battery technology can bring much-needed energy to remote communities at a lower cost.
- The need to improve the resiliency of centralized grid architecture – Time can eventually wear down centralized grid architecture, reducing its effectiveness. In some cases, a natural or man-made disaster can render an otherwise effective centralized grid architecture useless. Batteries can serve as microgrids which can support aging centralized grid architecture and provide energy in the event of a disaster.
The Benefits of Battery Technology
One benefit of battery technology is that it helps increase renewable energy usage. Battery technology also has other benefits:
- Managed energy costs – Battery technology can help households and businesses better manage their energy costs. With batteries, households and businesses can store renewable energy for future use, reducing their future renewable energy purchases.
- Energy access for remote and low-income communities – Some communities are located in islands or mountainous terrains, rendering the construction of traditional power lines impossible. Low-income communities cannot always afford conventional energy sources. Residents need to buy charcoal and oil, or gather firewood and animal dung, for heat and fuel. Battery technology provides energy access despite the absence of traditional power lines.
- Greater energy security – Traditional forms of energy run on non-renewable resources such as petroleum and coal. When these resources are depleted, traditional energy facilities will be forced to cease operations. Renewable energy is an inexhaustible energy source. Battery technology can help turn renewable energy into a more secure energy source by allowing energy storage for future use. With energy reserves at hand, renewable energy facilities can become more resistant to disruptions.
- A healthier environment – Fossil fuel power plants pose environmental problems. Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) revealed that coal-fired power plants generated 1,241 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2016. In addition, petroleum-fired power plants produced 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016. Such huge amounts of carbon dioxide emissions have the potential to worsen global warming and climate change. Battery technology increases renewable energy use, which lessens carbon emissions.
The Potential of Battery Technology in Terms of Renewable Energy Storage
Battery technology provides significant potential for renewable energy storage:
- Households – The growing number of households using renewable energy can pave the way for greater battery technology use. In 2017, the number of UK households using solar energy reached 1 million. In the same year, the UK government announced that it will invest £246 million in battery research. The UK’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) claimed that batteries and smart grids can help consumers save £17 billion-£40 billion by 2050.
- Businesses – A December 2016 report by the Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) said that the number of Fortune 100 companies that have renewable energy or sustainability targets rose from 60 in 2014 to 71 in 2016. The report added that from 2014 to 2016, 215 Fortune 500 companies made renewable energy or sustainability commitments. Twenty-two of these 215 firms pledged to run all their operations on renewable energy. As businesses’ use of renewable energy grows, so will the commercial use of battery technology.
- Remote and low-income communities –Battery technology enables remote and low-income communities to have energy access without having to build or maintain expensive traditional power lines. In 2017, the Arizona Public Service (APS) contracted the AES for two 1-megawatt/4-megawatt-hour storage systems for Punkin Center. The conventional way of improving Punkin Center’s energy facilities involves upgrading power lines that go through hilly and mountainous terrain, which is very expensive and can even disrupt the small town’s power supply. Energy storage systems, on the other hand, are easier to install and maintain, rendering them more cost-effective than traditional power lines.
Current Trends in Battery Technology
The most recent developments in battery technology show an increased demand, fueled by increased opportunities:
- Rapid boom of the electric vehicle market – Electric cars around the world rose from 1 million in 2015 to 2 million in 2016. The growing demand for electric cars will buoy the demand for battery technology.
- Falling battery prices – According to the Energy Storage Association (ESA), energy storage costs dropped by 70 percent in 2016. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) claimed that, by 2030, lithium-ion batteries will cost only USD120 per kilowatt-hour.
- Greater corporate investments in energy storage – In the third quarter of 2016, business investment in energy storage amounted to USD660 million.
The Future of Battery Technology
Battery technology will encourage individuals, organizations and governments to switch to renewable energy. Battery technology will assure consumers that renewable energy is reliable and can solve their most pressing issues, such as lowering energy costs and providing protection for businesses from power supply disruptions. These benefits may translate to greater productivity and an improved bottom line.
Battery technology also ensures a healthier environment and a more productive society by increasing renewable energy use, which will lessen GHG emissions and help slow down global warming. Battery technology also brings energy access to remote and low-income communities, which, in turn, can spur development in these communities. Through battery technology, renewable energy will be able to address both the short- and long-term needs of businesses and communities.
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