Report On The Status Of The U.S. Energy Storage Project – Watts Up With That?


/ Francis Menton

As you probably know, on April 22, 2021, the “United States” “set a goal” to achieve “100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035.” They know this because on that date (Earth Day!) President Biden issued a press release announcing it, although the document does not tell us how Biden was able to commit the “United States” to such an ambitious goal by the device of a mere press release, without any kind of affirmative action by Congress, much less any consultation with you.

Previous posts here have pointed out that there is a pretty gigantic hurdle to achieving the “carbon-free electricity” goal, namely the need for vast amounts of energy storage to transform wildly fluctuating intermittent generation from the wind and sun into electricity. constant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. supply. For example, this January 14, 2022 post reported on calculations by a guy named Ken Gregory on how many gigawatt hours of storage it would take to balance a completely wind/solar-powered grid for the United States, assuming consumption in the 2020 levels. (Mr. Gregory’s estimate was in the range of 250,000 GWH, costing hundreds of billions of dollars.) And this March 27 post reported on several jurisdictions (California, Australia, New York) hurtling toward “net zero.” future without even bothering to calculate how many GWH of energy storage they would need or how much it would cost.

But clearly, the people committing us to these goals need to know that a completely wind/solar-free and fossil fuel-free future requires a lot of energy storage. After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that wind and solar power produce nothing on a calm night. And indeed, if we look at what our government is doing, we find considerable activity on the energy storage front. But there is an almost total disconnect between, on the one hand, the current efforts of small research grants and pilot programs to investigate which of several new technologies might work, and, on the other hand, a multi-hundred-trillion-dollar total transformation of the entire the energy economy that is supposed to be achieved in the next 13 years using technology not yet invented, much less demonstrated at scale.

These are just a few examples of what is currently happening in the world of energy storage:

  • The federal Department of Energy has a big program going on called the Energy Storage Grand Challenge. An article from Energy Storage News, September 24, 2021, provides a full update. The center of the program will be the construction of a new research center where the feasibility of various alternative strategies for what they call “long-term” energy storage will be investigated. So it seems that they have at least realized that to make a wind/solar power grid last a year, you will need storage that can hold thousands of GWH of charge for many months. Lithium ions can’t do that. But ESN points out that not only do “long-term” technologies still not exist, but neither does the research center exist to investigate them, nor has their construction begun. From ESN: “DOE is also helping build a $75 million long-duration energy storage research center at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, expected to open in or during 2025.” So maybe we can start this basic research sometime around 2025.
  • And what potential technologies will be investigated? In the same ESN article, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm opines: “Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm famously expressed the opinion earlier this year that flow batteries are “good for grid storage” and these enthusiastic words seem to translate into action.” Hey, Secretary Granholm attended Harvard Law School, so she’s at least as qualified as I am to weigh in on what kind of storage the US should get to store, say, 250,000 GWH of energy for six months. . ESN reports that the Granholm DOE has just awarded some $18 million in grants to four entities investigating various aspects of these hypothetical “flow batteries.”
  • In the somewhat less mythical category, here’s an ESN article just published today on the topic of zinc batteries, with the headline “e-Zinc raises US$25 million to begin commercial pilot production of long-term storage “. You only have to read a little of this to realize how far beyond the necessary capabilities these technologies currently are. “The [zinc battery] The technology is touted as a means of replacing diesel generator sets in the backup power supply for periods of between half a day and five days. . . . That ability to discharge at full rated power over multiple days would potentially exceed the capabilities of other non-lithium alternatives, such as flow batteries. . . . However, e-Zinc has not yet passed the pilot stage.” The technology to discharge at full power for more than “a few days” is not even in the “pilot stage”.

None of these articles, or much more from the Department of Energy, will give you an idea of ​​how much any of these technologies could cost to deploy. But doing some digging today, I found a July 2019 document from the Department, titled “Energy Storage Technology and Cost Characterization Report.” written by K. Mongird and a group of co-authors. This article attempts to make cost comparisons among a large group of potential energy storage technologies and provide cost projections for each starting in 2025. The technologies are sodium sulfur, lithium ion, lead acid, lithium metal halide, sodium, zinc hybrid cathode, and redox flow. The authors are really attempting an honest assessment of the costs, including not only the capital cost of purchasing each type of battery, but also the costs of the power conversion system (conversion from AC to DC and vice versa), the “balancing of the plant” and “construction and commissioning”. The cheapest of the technologies in this analysis is lithium-ion at $362/kwh, with the difference between that figure and the less than $200/kwh Tesla currently charges consisting of conversion, BOP and C&C costs. But keep in mind that lithium-ion technology only has 4-8 hours of discharge capacity.

The second cheapest here is zinc technology, at $433/kwh. Remember that Mr. Gregory estimated a storage need of about 250,000 GWH for the US to support a wind/solar system that provides only the current level of electricity use. Multiply that by $433/kwh and you get roughly $108 billion. If you plan to electrify all your cars and home heating and cooking, you can at least double that figure. And this is the technology where they are waiting for to demonstrate 5 days of download capacity, versus a need of more than 6 to 12 months.

Read the full article here.

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