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Green Energy's Dead Battery Problem


Wind and solar energy have plenty of obstacles to overcome before they can attain a significant share of the world’s energy mix, but their intermittency may be their biggest limiting factor in the long run. How can we keep the lights on in the middle of a windless night? The most likely solution is some sort of large-scale energy storage system, but this kind of mega-battery technology is lagging far, far behind the green technologies it is designed to complement. The NYT reports:

“We have done a good job in developing the renewable energies,” [said Dr. Weber, founder of the German Energy Storage Association]. “We have not done an equally good job in making sure we have enough storage.” […]

[F]inding an energy storage technology capable of revolutionizing the power grid will take time, experts caution. Batteries have been around a long while, but progress has been relatively limited when it comes to inexpensive, large-scale, durable applications.

“There’s got to be a recognition that there is no quick fix — that it is going to be a longer haul, partly because, yes, we should have done more before in this area,” said Dr. Bruce, of the University of St. Andrews. “You can only accelerate so fast.”

So despite recent advances in solar panel efficiencies and the construction of ever-larger wind turbines, wide-scale renewable technology remains hamstrung. For the green dream to come true, we’ll need to channel dollars into the research and development of more efficient energy storage options on top of next-generation renewable energy technologies. There’s a lot of work to be done, but while the world waits for a better battery, natural gas can power homes while reducing carbon emissions. It’s cheap, it’s abundant, and it’s green.

[Empty battery image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Corlyss

    “mega-battery technology is lagging far, far behind the green technologies”
    Wow! Something more inert and fanciful than boutique energy. Whodda thunk it!

  • Fat_Man

    Batteries are one of the oldest of industrial era technologies. The first one was made by Alessandro Volta in 1800. They are based on inorganic chemistry a science that is almost completely closed and characterized. There is little technological headroom for any new types of batteries or any great innovation in their structure or function.

    We should not waste research money on batteries, nor should we expect any real help for the “renewable energy” portfolio from batteries

    • f1b0nacc1

      While I entirely agree with your point regarding inorganic chemistry, let me suggest that soem structural innovations (increasing the surface area that can react, providing for more durable cathodes and anodes, etc.) should provide some improvements that are probably worth pursuing.
      With that said, however, your broader point is well taken…battery technology is and will remain the bottleneck and there is not a whole lot that can be done about it.
      As an aside, do I also see you on FuturePundit?

      • Fat_Man

        I used to read FP. I had to go on an internet diet, and that was one I dropped.

        • f1b0nacc1

          A pity, your absence is keenly felt

  • Boritz

    The solution is so obvious as to require no further discussion: Cellyndra. Rent the factory space. Start making batteries. Infuse massive amounts of government $$$$$$$, and reap the green (pun intended) rewards.

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