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Recent Developments in the Booming Area of Battery Energy Storage

5 min. read
There's a lot going on these days in the booming cleantech area of battery storage -- a crucial part of the transition to a fully clean energy economy.  Here are a few recent stories that caught our eyes.
First, over at Vox, David Roberts discusses solar power's "great challenge," the "duck curve." As Roberts explains, the "duck curve" comes about because, "As more and more solar PV is integrated into the grid, it starts dramatically suppressing net load during midday, when the sun is out." As a result, "The net load curve sags in the middle of the day (like a belly) and then swoops back up when the sun goes down (like a neck)." So what's the problem with this "duck?" Roberts writes:
If it doesn’t get solved, things could get ugly. In the near future, utilities could regularly be forced to ramp up their dispatchable plants for a morning peak, then scale back or shut down almost all of those plants while the sun is out, and then bring them all back online (quickly) when the sun goes down.
All that ramping and stop-starting is expensive and unfamiliar to the operators of many fossil fuel power plants. If the tension gets too high, solar expansion could be choked off.
Fortunately, as Roberts explains, there are numerous solutions to the "duck curve," one of which is "having an enormous, dispersed fleet of batteries could help soak up renewable energy during times of excess." And as "duck curve" expert Paul Denholm adds: "by 2020, four-hour batteries should be competitive with peaking resources in much of California. Then you potentially have a multi-megawatt or even multi-gigawatt sink for at least some of this curtailed solar energy." 
Next, check out this article at Greentech Media about "How Batteries Can Bridge the EV Infrastructure Gap." The key point here is from a study by McKinsey & Company, which "laid out a peak-shaving model in which on-site batteries can charge off-peak, store the power, and discharge to cars without taking more power from the grid," and finds that "batteries could reduce demand charges by a full 73 percent, leveling out load peaks in the process and making charging stations more affordable." Also, among their many benefits, batteries could also "provide an important bridge for existing chargers until widespread adoption and infrastructure take hold, or scientists improve prospects for fast-charging supercapacitors." Good stuff.
So how big is the peak capacity market for batteries? According to Greentech Media, "new research suggest short-duration batteries could take over a substantial share of California's impending peaker retirements." Moving beyond short-duration batteries, Greentech Media reports that "[i]n the next decade or two, lithium-ion will become cheap enough for longer durations than are currently feasible," and that "dozens of companies are racing to commercialize alternative technologies for longer-duration energy storage."
Given the enormous potential, private companies are - not surprisingly - rushing to enter the battery storage space. For instance, GE Power recently "announced that the company would commit to building large-scale battery systems to store electricity in the next 10 years. The first product is a 1.2-megawatt lithium-ion battery that it expects to start delivering to customers in 2019."
The growth in battery storage is happening not just in the U.S., of course, but all over the world. For instance, in Germany, the "battery storage industry is expected to expand by 81 per cent this year, as 323 MW of the technology are to be developed as against 143 MW in 2016 and 178 MW last year." And in Australia, "SIMEC ZEN Energy, led by British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta, will develop a 120 MW / 140 MWh energy storage project in Port Augusta, South Australia, with the help of a roughly $8 million loan from state government." And Tesla is bidding "on a series of grid-scale battery storage installations in Colorado," which, "[w]hen completed and online by 2023...may qualify for the title of largest battery installation in the world, according to PV Magazine"
No wonder why McKinsey & Company last year called battery storage "the next disruptive technology in the power sector," with low-cost storage potentially "transform[ing] the power landscape" and having "profound" implications. According to McKinsey & Company:
Storage prices are dropping much faster than anyone expected, due to the growing market for consumer electronics and demand for electric vehicles (EVs). Major players in Asia, Europe, and the United States are all scaling up lithium-ion manufacturing to serve EV and other power applications. No surprise, then, that battery-pack costs are down to less than $230 per kilowatt-hour in 2016, compared with almost $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010.
McKinsey research has found that storage is already economical for many commercial customers to reduce their peak consumption levels. At today’s lower prices, storage is starting to play a broader role in energy markets, moving from niche uses such as grid balancing to broader ones such as replacing conventional power generators for reliability,1providing power-quality services, and supporting renewables integration.
The bottom line: battery storage - and energy storage more broadly - is a crucial, rapidly growing sector that will have enormous implications on a number of fronts, including renewable energy penetration, and that definitely deserves close attention by anyone involved or interested in the cleantech space.
Topics: Clean Economy