Several countries have been researching future development to convert their fossil fuel based power grids to a more environmentally friendly solution. However, the greatest obstacle to overcome is not how to make the power – but how to store the excess power for use during times when the winds slow down and the sun goes down.
Currently we can’t control the weather, (well not yet, at least) so we are reliant upon Mother Nature’s random cycles for energy. Therefore the requirement of how to store this excess and off-hour power for when it’s really needed comes into play.
As noted from Wired UK:
” That power needs to be stored somewhere so that it can be used, otherwise renewable energy can’t ever replace coal, oil, nuclear or similar plants that can output a reliable level of power whenever needed.
For that reliability, there are three main options: pumped hydroelectric storage (PHS), where water is pumped upwards into a reservoir where it can be released later; compressed air energy storage (CAES) where the air can be expanded again through turbines when needed; and batteries, of which there are many different types, each with their own maximum number of effective charge cycles. ”
PHS stands to be the most efficient of the options, but it has certain limitations on local landscape that severely affect where it can be made effective. You can’t build a reservoir on flat land next to a solar panel grid, and it is quite costly to install wind turbines in the mountains where a reservoir might fit best.
Unfortunately the mountainous terrain areas as well as national parks appear to make ideal locations for a pumped hydroelectric storage location, but at what cost?
This is where rechargeable batteries can come into play. If a battery could be developed to withstand the enormous number of cycles required, developers would have more control where they could build future power grids, and be less reliant on working around the location requirements of a pumped hydroelectric storage setup. It would be more ideal to build a “eco-grid” on cheap land next to a town that requires the power, than to invade a national park where building is difficult and disruptive to the environment.
Additionally from Wired regarding the current status of the batteries we have available today:
” This is in large part because battery technology currently can’t handle enough charge cycles. Lithium-ion batteries can handle at most around 6,000 cycle, lead-acid batteries only 700, compared to more than 25,000 cycles for a PHS facility. Even though the material costs for large-scale batteries are more prohibitive than for PHS (rare-earth minerals versus what is often no more than concrete and steel), it’s the lifecycle of batteries that we’ll need to work on if we want to be able to rely on them as affordable parts of the grid. ”
As researchers continue to make progress on new technological breakthroughs on rechargeable batteries, we get closer to being able to locate future power grids in the most Eco-friendly locations, and out of our national parks and mountains.