The Future of Energy Storage

5 minutes

Energy is everywhere and everything, and as we become more connected, smart and reliant on t...

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 July 29th in 2021, almost a whole month earlier than 2020. 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.

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 affects 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’ and this can be done during periods where this energy is not needed. However, the issue lies in efficiently storing this energy, the technology 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 couple of years of use, the performance drops to nearly unusable! 

When you look at things on a global scale, some have estimated that we would need to increase our energy storage capacity from 140 GW in 2014 to 450 GW in 2050. In 2015, Germany had to jettison 4 percent of its renewable energy storage, 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 resources.

So what is being done about it? Who is trying to solve this energy problem and how can this issue be solved? We might not have all the answers but we have a few predictions.
 

What is being done about energy storage?

Here in the UK, Greg Clark, Business and Energy Secretary announced in 2017 that £246 million was being invested in battery research and development domestically. In addition to this, the U.K. Carbon Trust will deliver £9.2 million to accelerator storage and other similar technologies

More recently, approximately £6.7 million in government funding has been awarded to projects aimed at developing new forms of energy storage. This is just a fraction of the £68 million funding opportunity being offered by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in June last year. Collectively, this forms part of the UK government’s aim to reach net-zero while shifting to cleaner energy sources. 

Some countries are working towards the issue. The United States' large-scale battery storage capacity will be increased to 17 GW in 2050, according to the U.S. EIA. China’s energy storage capacity stood at 35 GW in 2020, and the country aims to add 30 GW to this by 2025, according to Reuters. However, other countries, like India, are still stalling. A worldwide effort is needed to remedy the problem, and as much as initiatives formed at the G20 summits are all well and good, 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, increasing the amount of renewable energy allowed onto the grid. This was a huge step forward to making our energy consumption personal and easier to monitor. However, we’re far from establishing a fully decentralised energy grid in the UK.  
 

Who is trying to solve the energy problem?

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 estimates there is €100 trillion of assets.

There are many other companies that are getting innovative and finding amazing ways to store energy which could disrupt the energy storage sector. One such player is Alphabet (aka Google) who, in 2017, revealed a new project, under the 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. Now, in 2022, Malta has its own spinoff that has raised $50 million in order to bring its technology to the energy storage market. 

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 does. 

In 2020, Tesla completed testing at their expansion site in Southern Australia, increasing energy outputs to 150 megawatts. This project has allowed the company to deliver power to 30,000 homes. 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 inverter systems to cut the transfer of energy from a third to merely a singular percentage. Powerful!
 

How will it be fixed?

To fix the issues surrounding energy storage, innovation is needed, particularly in the areas surrounding STEM subjects, and this innovation must exist not just in our current generations, but in future generations too. With barely any women taking up energy storage courses and not that many men either, we are seeing a huge drop in the required skills. This shortage of skills is undoubtedly holding back development and progress. Jobs are out there, but not being filled easily. Luckily we cover that. But with skill shortages coming, we may 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 visionary will emerge and take us on to the next generation of energy storage, and we might even just get that warp speed!

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