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Battery Storage—An Infinitesimal Part of Electrical Power

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Large-scale storage of electricity is the latest proposed solution to boost the deployment of renewables. Renewable energy advocates, businesses, and state governments plan to use batteries to store electricity to solve the problem of intermittent wind and solar output. But large-scale storage is only an insignificant part of the electrical power industry and doomed to remain so for decades to come.

Last month, Senator Susan Collins of Maine introduced a bi-partisan bill named “The Better Energy Storage Technology Act,” proposing to spend $300 million to promote the development of battery solutions for electrical power. Collins stated, “Next-generation energy storage devices will help enhance the efficiency and reliability of our electric grid, reduce energy costs, and promote the adoption of renewable resources.”

Arizona, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon adopted statutes or goals to develop storage systems for grid power, with New York committing to most ambitious target in the nation. In January, as part of his mandate for “100 percent clean power by 2040,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a target to deploy 3,000 megawatts (MW) of storage by 2030.

Today, 29 states have renewable portfolio standards laws, requiring utilities to purchase increasing amounts of renewable energy. But the electricity output from wind and solar systems is intermittent. On average, wind output is between 25% and 35% of rated output. Solar output is even less, delivering an average of about 15% to 20% percent of rated output.

Mandating the addition of wind and solar to power systems to is like forcing a one-car family to buy a second car that runs only 30% of the time. The family can’t replace the original car with the new intermittent car, but must then maintain two cars.

Renewable advocates now propose electricity storage to solve the intermittency problem and to help renewable energy replace traditional coal, natural gas, and nuclear generators. When wind and solar output is high, excess electricity would be stored in batteries and then delivered when renewable output is low, to try to replace traditional power plants that generate electricity around the clock.

Headlines laud the growth of battery installations for grid storage, growing 80% last year and up 400% from 2014. But the amount of US electricity stored by batteries today is less than miniscule.

Pumped storage, not batteries, provides about 97% of grid power storage in the United States today. Pumped storage uses electricity to pump water into an elevated reservoir to be used to drive a turbine when electricity is needed. But less than one in every 100,000 watts of US electricity comes from pumped storage.

In 2018, US power plants generated 4.2 million GW-hours of electrical power. Pumped storage capacity totaled about 23 GW-hrs. Battery storage provided only about 1 GW-hr of capacity. Less than one-millionth of our electricity is stored in grid-scale batteries.

Electricity storage is expensive. Pumped storage is the least costly form of grid storage at about $2,000 per kilowatt, but requires areas where an elevated reservoir can be used. Battery storage costs about $2,500 per kilowatt for discharge duration of two hours or more. Batteries are more expensive than onshore wind energy, which has an installed market price of under $1,000 per kilowatt. But a key factor in the effectiveness of storage is the length of time that the system can deliver stored electricity.

In the case of New York State, plans call for the installation of 9,000 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2035 and 3,000 MW of battery storage by 2030. The wind system will likely cost in excess of $9 billion, and the battery system will likely cost about $7.5 billion. But this planned battery deployment is wholly inadequate to remove the wind intermittency.

If the wind system has an average output of 33% of its rated output, then the planned 3,000 MW of battery storage would only be able to deliver the average wind output for about two hours. To replace output for a full day when the wind isn’t blowing, 36,000 MW of storage would be needed at a cost of $90 billion, or about ten times as much as the wind system itself. Since several days without wind in most locations is common, even a day of battery backup is inadequate.

In addition, the 10-15 year lifetime of grid-scale batteries is no bargain.  Wind and solar systems are rated for 20-25 years of service life. Traditional coal, natural gas, and nuclear systems last for 35 years or more.

Storage of electricity should be regarded as foolish by anyone in the manufacturing industry. For decades, major companies pursued just-in-time manufacturing, “lot size one,” Kanban, lean manufacturing, and other programs designed to eliminate finished goods inventory to reduce costs. Electricity is delivered immediately upon generation, the ultimate zero-finished-goods-inventory product. But many organizations now clamor for electricity storage to try to fix the intermittency weakness of renewables.

Today, grid storage capacity is less than one millionth of national electricity output. Practical battery storage adds a cost factor of at least ten to the cost of the partner renewable system. It will be decades before grid battery storage plays a significant role in large-scale power systems, if ever.

Steve Goreham's picture

Thank Steve for the Post!

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Discussions

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on June 29, 2019

Steve, thank you - your contribution to EnergyCentral is a textbook example of the kind of well-researched, well-written article needed to cut through the endless stream of manufactured hype promoting the renewable "energy revolution" - a revolution rivaled only by the Bolshevik one of 1917 for its potential to set civilization back a millennium, or two.

Your points can't be overemphasized, and to the end I will add my own: three decades have passed since climatologist James Hansen, considered the Father of Climate Change Awareness, warned "it's time to stop waffling" on climate change. We don't have a few more to spare.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on July 1, 2019

Today, grid storage capacity is less than one millionth of national electricity output. Practical battery storage adds a cost factor of at least ten to the cost of the partner renewable system. It will be decades before grid battery storage plays a significant role in large-scale power systems, if ever.

Both the current low capacity and the current high costs are exactly why the investment, such as the the Better Energy Storage Technology Act, are critical. Look not where energy storage is on the proverbial ladder today, but rather what direction it's moving. Otherwise if you had looked at the infitesimally small part that nuclear played in the U.S. energy mix before money & time had been poured into perfecting it, you might not today consider it a viable part of the solution. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on July 1, 2019

Matt, if storage has a precursor for failure, it's renewables. Of course we have to look where energy storage is on the proverbial ladder today - then, we have to make estimates about what's possible in the future, based on some experience from the past:

1) Not a single country in the world has been able to power itself on solar and wind. Ever. The most successful attempt is the richest nation in Europe - Germany - which will miss its 2020 emissions target by double digits. The U.S. now generates 2.6% of its electricity with solar, 7% with wind, in the most favorable parts of the country. How many Americans live in the most favorable parts of the country for solar and wind?

2) 30 years ago, three countries - France, Sweden, and Switzerland - reached 80% nuclear energy in 15 years. It would have been 100%, were it not for Chernobyl and a well-organized and -financed campaign by the oil industry to kill it forever. The U.S. reached 20% nuclear generation in 32 years (1958-1990).

"Otherwise if you had looked at the infitesimally small part that nuclear played in the U.S. energy mix before money & time had been poured into perfecting it."

Though I'm a big supporter, I didn't know nuclear had been perfected!

They're still working on nuclear energy, but it was practical in an eyeblink compared to the time and money already spent on wind and solar. Doesn't matter: nuclear energy generates electricity on demand - day or night, windy or calm. There's no comparison.

Mario Bruno Ferreira's picture
Mario Bruno Ferreira on July 2, 2019

Dear Bob Meinetz,

Concerning pont 1) Portugal has reached more then 25% of supply with only wind and solar prodution (from jannuary to june 2019).

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on July 2, 2019

That's great, Mario. What does Portugal use to generate electricity for the other 75% - when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing?

Mario Bruno Ferreira's picture
Mario Bruno Ferreira on July 3, 2019

Actually we have a lot of installed power: 19.000 Mw for a peak of only 8500 MW. This induce some additional cost...

Also we have about 2800 MW of interconnexion  capacity with our neighbourSpain. 

 

More info at www.ren.pt

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on July 3, 2019

Though per-capita carbon emissions in Portugal are a fourth of those in the U.S., according to this source Portugal's use of fossil fuel to generate electricity increased by 31% between 2014-16.

Not a single country in the world has been able to power itself completely on solar and wind - and in Portugal the situation is getting worse, not better.
 

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on July 2, 2019

Energy Storage has a place as the Ludington Pumped Storage facility (8GW, 16GWH) and Racoon Moutain (1.5 GW, 20 GWH) have proven. Batteries will fill a role in the grid, what that role will be is still to be written. Several  GWH of batteries are deployed today in back up and emergency power roles. 

Studies done by universities have shown that pumped storage sited abound. SDCWA in San Diego is building 500 MW of pumped storage (8 GWH) - in San Diego no less!. 

Flow batteries will change the game as the technology is commercialized. With no "memory effect" in most of the chemistries - they will offer a 40+ year life for a fast ramping peaking and frequency support product. 

China is today the leading research, design, manufacturing and use location for batteries of all types. The US is not even in the top 10, in my opinion. 

$300 million for battery research is a nice start, but it needs to go to more than lithium Ion batteries to really have an impact. 

Like it or not, solar is going to take a larger and larger role in generation as will wind. 

The question is will the engineering community step up and start actually thinking about how to make the grid and renewables work together? Because if we leave it to the advocates and the politicians we are looking at long term black outs!

We need every (repeat every) tool in the toolbox to make the 21st century grid run. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on July 2, 2019

Doug, we need every effective (repeat effective) tool in the toolbox to make the 21st century grid run.

Wind and solar will undoubtedly take a larger role in generation until they eat their own lunch - a phenomenon predicted in 2015 by Jesse Jenkins and Alex Trembath of The Breakthrough Institute. The hypothesis is this: any source of energy is limited by economics to the approximate market penetration of its capacity factor. Thus, If the capacity of solar maxes out at 32% in California, for example, economics will prevent it from ever rising above 32% market share on the CAISO grid (and so on). The premise appears so trivial it might be dismissed, but Jenkins/Trembath show it has a logical basis, and it has proven remarkably accurate in markets around the world.

Renewables advocates have seized upon this, incorrectly, to assume it's summable - that there is no overlap between the availability of each source. They conclude we can take 20 different renewable sources, add their capacity factors together, and end up with 100% renewable energy. I don't know if anyone has bothered to perform a statistical analysis, but it would certainly be possible to determine, to a reasonable degree of accuracy, how often "four nines" availability (99.99%) would be possible with a combination of all sources of renewable energy. A guesstimate would be almost never - far less than the .01% chance electricity will be unavailable at any specific location in the U.S. at any given time.

Pumped water storage (~70% efficient) and flow batteries (15-80% efficient) reduce the already abysmal capacity factor of solar and wind by a corresponding amount. If batteries are used to store gas-fired energy, they make it dirtier by a corresponding amount. Raising the question: "How often would a sum of highly-variable inputs, stored in inefficient storage devices, be capable of producing clean, reliable output?". The answer is conclusively "Never."

What will charge grid-scale batteries while solar and wind are powering the grid? I have yet to get an answer to this problem from advocates, a shorcoming which seems an obvious deal-breaker. But I guess it's all I should expect from legions from renewables advocates who consider batteries "sources of energy," ones who have no idea what they're talking about.

Eugene Hunt's picture
Eugene Hunt on July 2, 2019

Steve - I read your post (thanks to its provocative title) and am still trying to find your point. It would appear that you're not exactly an objective observer of this industry with words like "insignificant", "doomed" and "foolish", but I was curious about your vision. Are you recommending scrapping all RE and energy storage programs and technologies? If so, in favor of... business as usual? What is your decarbonization strategy – or are you saying that we don't need one? The vast majority of climatologists, countries, and indeed average citizens would beg to differ. 

I would suggest that your analogy of forcing someone to buy a second car to use part of the time is slightly misconstructed. It's more like someone has the opportunity to wean themselves off internal combustion engines by increasing use of an EV (or using public transport), until the ICE vehicle can be retired.

No one is forcing any *individual* to do anything. While some elected officials fight to maintain the fossil-fueled status quo, other, more progressive state governments are stepping up with RE and storage mandates because they recognize that we as a nation must decarbonize, and state and local action is needed in the absence of federal policy. Distributed energy resources, including wind, solar, fuel cells, batteries, and other advanced technologies will ultimately replace centralized fossil plants because they're safer, cleaner, more flexible and resilient. That the percentage today is "infinitesimal" is meaningless – their continuing growth is inevitable and, in my view, for the better.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on July 2, 2019

Eugene, nothing wrong with having an opinion on a subject, and here Steve backs his up with copious examples.

"...more progressive state governments are stepping up with RE and storage mandates because they recognize that we as a nation must decarbonize, and state and local action is needed in the absence of federal policy."

Any state government stepping up with a power storage mandate - one which seeks to replace coal or gas with empty batteries (did we ever consider batteries might need to be charged?) is creating policy based on ignorance. Above, Steve explains why.

Mario Bruno Ferreira's picture
Mario Bruno Ferreira on July 2, 2019

Dear Steve Goreham,

I am not sure if that's the case. There is several 'storage' options presently on long term planning analysis at ENTSOE (European TSOs). Even Power_to_Gas (P2G) and reversal are being studied. It seem even that some TSO (Transmission System Operators) and maybe also DSO would like to get 'authorization' from regulation to run storage devices (I think that will include also 'static' storage). Furthermore also EV are being seen as possible V2G service supplyers.

Also on some SandBox projects there are many application for 'static' storage.

Jeffrey Williams's picture
Jeffrey Williams on July 2, 2019

Excellent article. Most subsidy programs or government policies are aimed at extending current battery technology. There may be a place for limited battery storage, but it will depend on new tech development, possibly nano technology application.

Thank you for an informative and useful analysis.

Michele Holden's picture
Michele Holden on July 2, 2019

Steve, Your comments seem inordinately gloomy (energy storage is "foolish"?) when we have Moore's law as an example of what happened in computer storage technology and the rate of capacity that increased exponentially when money, science and the need for change came together. Look at such planned projects as LADWP's pending approval of 8minute Solar Energy's Eland Phase 1 and 2 projects which will add up to 400 megawatts of solar and 300 megawatts of energy storage. U.S. Solar & wind companies (and the rest of the industrialized world) are not giving up and neither should we.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on July 2, 2019

Michele, it wasn't the best way to frame what Steve meant, which I believe was this: "Suggesting battery storage could solve the intermittency problem and to help renewable energy replace traditional coal, natural gas, and nuclear generators is foolish."

And it is. As Steve's chart shows above, there will never be enough batteries to power a U.S. city for a single day of cloudy weather. Probably not for a single hour.

Electricity must be generated as it's used. It doesn't sit in the wires, waiting for someone to turn on the switch. Grid managers work diligently, every minute of every day, to precisely match supply to demand by generating just the right amount of electricity when it's needed. Believing that can be accomplished with batteries might be compared to believing you can drink forever from an empty pitcher (or possibly more appropriate, an empty thimble).

In any case, statements like "400 megawatts of solar and 300 megawatts of energy storage" make no sense, and reveal you don't understand electricity well enough to have an opinion. The first step would be to learn what we mean when we talk about watts, watthours, volts, amperes, alternating vs. direct current, etc. Many books on the subject are available.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on July 10, 2019

As far as I can judge, Steve Gorham has good credentials and has researched the area, but Why do i feel discouraged about Renewable Energy at the end of it? Because he has put insuperable obstacles as his main theme. Just recently, a mob called Mac Wood, or Wood Mac, placed an article, - the which I didn't save, claiming the Cost of the US going Renewable, was - 2.4 Trillion, - 4.5 Trillion, - I can’t recall, - same conclusion, It Can’t be done. Certainly not the way a business would approach a problem, which would be “How can we do it?” - and certainly not the way for a civilisation threatened with destruction by ever rising temperatures from Global Warming, to approach it; - So I would like to make a few suggestions.  

1/, Technology, and particularly Renewable Energy Technology, is driven by the latest products, - Particularly Designers, - such as myself, combining the latest product in every field possible to meet new challenges, - what you can sell has to be available, and each new development opens the possibilties, indeed some times I have had to drive companies to build products that I can see open up more posibilities than they could have imagined, - usually much to their benefit, eg Selectronics in Australia. - So when Steve cites wind turbines at 25 to 35% availability, yet Turbines are on the market with 63% availability, - https://www.ge.com/renewableenergy/stories/new-wind-turbine-to-increase-efficiency-in-offshore-wind-farms, then you know the conclusion will not be relevant, and when Solar panels are cited at 25%, yet America gets 16 hours of sun per day, then Renewables connecting to Renewables is not a concept that Steve has used. :- Thing is, you have to look at the latest Technology to contribute to Renewables development. Of relevance is the concept I have introduced, in this report. https://www.energycentral.com/c/cp/american-wind-energy-report , where you can see the possibilities of a Current Hydro,  super battery that could produce 100% of America’s electricity requirement for an hour, - don’t worry about the .01%.

2/-, so article after article throws up ‘it can’t be done’” by qualified engineers, folk of immense managerial experience, etc, but almost no Designers, and particularly designers with hands on experience rather than degrees.

3/- Economics. - who pays for it, the Government, ie  Taxpayer, or Private industry? America’s greatest time of Productivity was under Keynesian economics after world War 2, well that was overthrown for some reason or other, but new economic ideas are now being developed all over the world, so as America was saved partialy from severe recession recently, by QE, the concept of Abundance.  - total Anathema to many economists at this time,  but who cares if you have to build twice the Solar Farms and Wind farms as you need, - they are so bloody cheap, all it does is give the possibility of electrical abundance, - when more renewables are producing than needed, cheap power will make so many industries competitive wih rest of the world where there is cheap labour, - no more need to oppress US workers with lower and lower wages, and all that bottom clenching judgemental stuff, - just sheer availability of cheap power will vastly reduce inequality, I have touched that on the link in the above Wind energy report to my earlier post about Australia’s electrical system, - which contains many useful ideas. An example of modern economic development theories would be, https://www.ted.com/talks/mariana_mazzucato_government_investor_risk_taker_innovator/transcript

 A primer for Designers I would suggest, even though it is old,   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8EMFaYvH_A

Don’t wory about current politics, just get at it,

 - Cheers,

Geoff Thomas.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on July 10, 2019

Technology, and particularly Renewable Energy Technology, is driven by the latest products, - Particularly Designers, - such as myself, combining the latest product in every field possible to meet new challenges, - what you can sell has to be available, and each new development opens the possibilties, indeed some times I have had to drive companies to build products that I can see open up more posibilities than they could have imagined, - usually much to their benefit

I agree with your sentiment here about the need to be forward looking and recognize that technology, by its nature, is always progressing and breaking new ground. The fact that "Less than one-millionth of our electricity is stored in grid-scale batteries." is one data point, but it does not take into account the coming technological breakthroughs in efficiency and cost that will make the grid batteris of 2029 look quite different than the ones in 2019-- not to mention the inevitable scaling up of market penetration

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