The Future of Energy Storage
14/08/2017 by MRL
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To half-quote Chief Engineer, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, from Star Trek – “we just don’t have the power Captain!” Even in 2264 we knew there would still be a few issues with energy storage and distribution. However that was the 1960’s trying to look far into the future. These days we are seeing more ‘space age’ tech then ever before. With advances happening nearly daily we have come a long way since 1800 when Volta created the first modern battery – but we’re still a little while off powering a star ship to the next system, Captain.
Energy is everywhere and everything, and as we become more connected, smart and reliant on technology we are going to need to find ways to harness more energy to survive. Unfortunately we crossed the “Overshoot Day” on August 2nd this year, a day faster than 2016. This is becoming such a hot topic to the human psyche that some even predict we will be fighting future wars over energy, rather than land or religion – if we weren’t already.
With such an array of sources to pick from we have to decide where to focus our time and investments. Clearly the fossil fuel days are over so the attention must be on the genesis of clean renewables. Nuclear fission just won’t cut it. Anything that effects the climate so severely won’t have a long shelf life in the future.
We know we can harness the power of the sun, wind, thermal and seas’ but the storing of it is not quite there, yet. We can’t even get our mobile phones/tablets to last for a few days without needing a top up, and after a year of use the performance drops to nearly unusable! When we take this to a global view, Germany had to jettison 4 percent of its renewable energy storage in 2015, and China more than 17 percent, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. This lack of efficient energy storage is frankly painful, it is a waste of money, time and resource.
So what is being done about it? Who is trying to solve this energy problem and how will it be fixed? We might not have all the answers but we have a few predictions.
Luckily, a bit closer to home, Greg Clark, Business and Energy Secretary announced last month £246 million in funding battery research and development for the UK. In addition to this, the U.K. Carbon Trust will deliver £9.2 million to accelerator storage and other similar technologies.
America & China, are working towards the issue but places like India are struggling. A world-wide effort is needed to help the problem, and as much as initiatives formed at the G20 summits are all well and nice, actual ventures are needed.
Another aspect is taking the energy storage needs out of the hands of governments and into our homes. In July the UK opened the power grid to storage batteries which is a huge step forward to making our energy consumption personal and easier to monitor. Ikea have even started selling solar panel and battery storage kits at a reasonable £3,000. As the price of batteries drop this idea will become more common and we might even completely decentralise the grid.
Currently some of the best energy companies in the world are heavily investing in research and development. However there is still a reluctance towards private investment into renewable energy, despite the fact the EU estimate there is €100 trillion of assets.
Alphabet (aka Google) is doing a great job with their top secret X lab. They revealed a new project, under code name “Malta” that uses salt to store energy – so it’s not just for your fish and chips anymore! It works on a convective molten-heat transfer and could take away the need for lithium-ion batteries and store energy for up to 40 years.
The other big player to mention is Tesla. Elon Musk is changing our technological world at such a pace, he will go down in the history books as one of the biggest visionaries of our time. With projects galore, energy storage is very much at the heart of what Tesla do. Powerpacks are the flagship design of the battery division for Tesla, and they are currently looking to set up shop in South Australia to deliver power to 30,000 homes – it even has a 100 days or it’s free commitment. What is very clever is their focus on the smaller details; wind and solar energy is harvested in direct current (DC), but transporting energy is done via alternating current (AC) so they are now working on their inverters system to cut the transfer of energy from a third to merely a singular percentage. Powerful!
It will be fixed by innovation. The innovation of studying the STEM subjects. The more we realise that the next generation must learn these areas the better. With barely any women taking up the courses and not that many men either, we are seeing a huge drop in required skills that is holding back development into energy storage. Jobs are out there, but not being filled easily. Luckily we cover that. But with the skill shortages we will see an energy shortage if we aren’t careful.
We need to make sure that this sector remains at the forefront of media and conversation. That way another dreamer will emerge and take us on to the next generation of energy storage; and we might even just get that warp drive!