Renewable energy grid future hinges on better battery storage

Solar performance enhanced by cleaning solar panels regularly.CleanTechnica: clean technology web site

Despite continued investment in renewable energy, the clean energy transformation can only happen at a national scale with long-term renewable storage.

Writing in CleanTechnica, technologist Steve Hanley says the electricity industry is waiting for new technology to push past the current two to four hours of large-scale battery storage.

According to Hanley, four to six hour grid-scale batteries are expected by 2030. These could cover 74 per cent of the electricity supplied by a typical gas peaker plant, based on a 2017 example.

Long-term renewable storage must meet solar demand

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), solar power is one of only four out of 38 clean energy technologies on track to meet Paris Agreement emission reduction targets.

VIDEO: The NSW government recently approved an upgrade of the Shoalhaven Pumped Hydro Storage Scheme. 

Solar panels have already revolutionised the global power market. The world will therefore have one terawatt (one trillion watts) of installed solar capacity by 2023, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

However, the relatively short life of commonly used lithium-ion storage batteries holds back utility-scale clean energy development. Combined with intermittent solar and wind, this means coal and gas supply ongoing, continuous power.

Battery technology will go on developing

However, Hanley is upbeat about future prospects for long-term renewable storage.

Looking ahead to the 2030s, he also sees developments in several areas:

  • Long-term electrochemical batteries that hold electricity for several months.
  • Season-shifting hydroelectric generators storing electricity from spring to summer.
  • Solar power generated in summer stored for use in autumn or winter.
  • Vanadium flow batteries storing electricity in liquid for longer time frames.
  • More concentrated solar power (CSP).
  • Development of compressed air and gravity storage ideas.

Australia already leads in pumped hydro storage

Pumped storage hydropower (PSH) could more than triple our electricity storage capacity, according to Australian National University.

ANU researchers say 20 large PSH plants would be enough to back up the entire Australian national grid.

Because of this, the NSW government recently approved the first stage of the proposed $300 million Shoalhaven PSH upgrade. The project stands to double the capacity of the Southern Highlands generator, from its current 240 MW to 475 MW.

As well as large-scale batteries, Australia’s home solar batteries market is also booming. Tesla Powerwall 2 and Enphase batteries slash electricity bills by storing energy to use overnight.