Thursday, March 13, 2014

Power for Solar Energy Grids

Metal batteries
Renewable energy is big business. No one wants to wait to see what will happen if we deplete all the earth’s available resources, so making use of energy sources that can renew themselves is a no-brainer. However, there are drawbacks. Take solar energy, for example. It depends on a certain number of hours per day of sunlight. Or wind energy, which takes advantage of powerful winds. Since those sources are intermittent, the race is on to develop energy storage systems, so that whether the weather conditions are calm and cool or sunny with high winds, we will still have power that has been created by renewable sources.

Liquid Metal Batteries

Researchers at MIT founded a startup to create a method of using liquid metal batteries for storing power. If the cost is right, it is a promising solution to storing power at an attractive price. Its developers are hopeful they will get the price down to $500 per kilowatt-hour, which comes out as less than one third of the price of other battery technologies. The company, Ambri, is working on the first sample battery, and plans are underway to install two prototypes early next year. If all goes well, liquid metal storage technology will reshape the present day battery industry. Its founders believe that since the materials used to make the batteries are naturally abundant, they will be cost-effective.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

More expensive but more common are lithium-ion batteries, which are used for powering laptops and electric cars. However, they are beginning to break into the grid storage market as well. One company, AES Corp, is marketing them to renewable energy developers and utility companies for around $1,000 per kilowatt-hour. Plans are underway to develop a $5 billion “gigafactory” that will produce lithium-ion batteries for electric cars and additional solar projects. 

Renewable Energy Storage

Today, it takes about $1,500 for each kilowatt-hour to collect and store the energy from the grid. By the year 2020, it is hoped that improved designs and technology will reduce the price to $575. As the price goes down, alternative energy options will become more attractive.

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