Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Energy storage is a lie

Some may say that the renewable energy dream of 'energy storage' is wishful thinking. A pipedream.

But for those that can do the math, it's simply a lie.

Lithium batteries are a lie

Over the past several years, nearly all battery improvements have been related to lithium batteries. Tesla puts them in cars. And also sells them as a grid-connected product, both as power walls and some 129,000 kWh deployment in Australia.

If coal plants generated 1,206 billion kwh (1206 TWh, 2017) in the United States, and there are about 359 coal plants (2017), then it can be concluded that the average coal plant is generating 3.4 TWh annually, or 3.4 billion kWh annually. Therefore the average coal plant is creating about 9,000,000 kWh every day.

Let's say one has a solar panel array that generates 9,000,000 kWh a day, but has a 'peak' period that needs to be put in storage. Let's assume that some 40% of the energy needs to be used in evenings, to charge cars, heat homes, cook food, do laundry, etc. Therefore 3600000 kWh needs to be put away in order to turn off the 'average' coal plant. 

3,600,000 kWh in lithium batteries is the equivalent of:
  • 27 battery installations the size Tesla made in Australia
  • 36,000 Tesla cars. (Assuming every Tesla is the 100 kWh model)
The question remains: if one had enough battery packs to supply 36,000 Tesla cars, why would one build grid-connected battery storage instead of building 36,000 Tesla cars?

Even if Tesla and other carmakers get to the point where they are making a million electric cars every year, it wouldn't even be 10% of the new car market in the United States. 

Clearly all lithium investment needs to be focused on car development, and this will remain the case for the coming decade. There isn't any point in installing a lithium battery on something that does not have wheels.

Therefore lithium batteries are not the solution for grid-connected energy storage.

Pumped hydro is a lie

The largest pumped hydro station is 24,000,000 kWh. This actually is a decent number if it could be emptied every day, so let's say it checks off 6 coal plants off the list. 

The problem is geology. To cover the rest of the coal plants, one would about 60 pumped hydro stations of similar size. This means finding 60 valleys, and flooding them. Compared to the prospect of doing this, the Dakota Access Pipeline drama is nothing. 

Flywheels are a lie

There is a flywheel company making a 2 ton flywheel that can store 32 kWh

1 coal plant = 3,600,000 kWh stored = 112500 flywheels = 225,000 tons of flywheel?

Even stacked 4 high and given minimal maintenance space, it would be a half a million square feet. Acres filled with solid steel spinning around. It's for the reader to determine how many kWh of power would be used to fabricate that much steel in the first place. 

Flow batteries are a lie

While it's great that there is going to be a 800,000 kWh deployment ready in 2020, we need another five of these plants to replace our 1 average coal plant.

Flow batteries may be a technology to eclipse lithium in grid connected scenarios, but not at a timescale that allows for the deployment timeline necessary.

Thermal batteries are a lie

The largest thermal battery is currently 1,680,000 kWh. Perhaps one may build two thermal energy stores for every 1 average coal plant, however the feasibility of this for photovoltaic panels + wind power has not been proven as thermal batteries are typically only deployed with CSP plants. Conversion efficiency when charged directly with electricity needs to be demonstrated. 

"We can turn off the coal plants!" 

Perhaps one is a genius that can figure out what mix of vanadium redox batteries, flooded valleys and thermal batteries are needed to create the energy storage necessary to have a reliable renewable grid.

Congratulations! You've solved the easy problem.

Now solve these problems:
  1. Turn off all natural gas plants
  2. Turn off all nuclear plants (and decommission all sites)
  3. Cleanup all ecological disaster areas (related to nuclear or mining or other issues)
  4. Support the electrification of all heating/cooling and transportation 
  5. Build renewable energy tech at scale
Ending usage of coal for existing consumption loads is a pathetic goal for pathetic simple-minded people. The real problem is 5 to 10 times more difficult, and renewable zealots tie their own hands by demanding that nuclear not see another dime of investment. 

The quickest way to near zero carbon, the quickest way to ramp up renewable energy production, and the quickest way to decommission existing nuclear plants, is to build new nuclear energy.

Anyone with a calculator should be able to understand this. 

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