By 2050, nearly half of the world’s electricity will be supplied by solar and wind, effectively putting an end to energy created by coal and gas. Owners of EVs will also be able to hook up their automobile to a power grid, transferring energy back and forth between cars and houses, allowing car owners to carry renewable energy wherever they go.
However, it requires storage battery systems. Switching from a system that supplies energy through power plants running on fossil fuels to smaller, renewable energy sources requires energy storage to overcome two main obstacles: using power gathered throughout the day to supply energy demands during the evening and ensuring there’s still power left when there’s less wind and during sunsets.
Power utilities don’t need to worry about this just yet. The idea of a significant number of residential consumers moving off the power grid is probably overstated, says Zak Kuznar, managing director of microgrid and energy storage development at Duke Energy. Duke Energy supplies electricity to more than 7.5 million customers in the U.S. “If you are wanting to run your home just on solar and batteries,” he says, “from where the technology is today, it’s going to be tough. It’s something we are keeping an eye on, but at this point, it’s pretty overstated.”
Lithium-ion batteries are as limited as energy storage goes – they’re only able to store enough energy to power grids for just a few hours at a time. There are also concerns surrounding environmental costs of extracting lithium in Chile’s Atacama Desert. In addition, the sector is also making preparations to recycle expired battery packs in the future.
A Tesla Model X SUV powers up via batteries at a holiday inn located in Australia. (Image Credit: Natalie Grono, Bloomberg Markets)
Electric cars are also helping in the transformation process of the global energy sector, outgrowing the demand for cheaper, renewable energy and the evolution of batteries. By 2040, nearly 60% of new cars and a third of passenger vehicles will be electric. Renault SA and Empresa de Electricdade da Madeira are running tests on storage technologies, hoping to eliminate fossil fuel imports. They have twenty electric cars, some of which are taxis, and one is used as a patrol car by police, roaming on the streets, with plans to expand to 100 electric cars next year. Residents on the islands are also testing out 40 charging stations, where banks of second life batteries are all connected to a local grid to harness extra energy from solar and wind farms.
There is an additional project ongoing in Belle-lle-en-Mer, off the northwest coast of Brittany. Rooftop solar panels and batteries power classrooms at a school throughout the week and rental cars over the weekend.
Currently, experiments are being carried out globally, where car batteries are being hooked up to power grids. This allows reversible charging to take effect, transferring electricity from cars to houses or back to power grids, enabling home appliances to be powered via a car battery. This gives drivers the opportunity to carry energy wherever they wish. Germany, another country experimenting with car batteries, has connected Nissan Leaf vehicles to their power grid since January. By doing so, the car is able to store energy whenever there’s a surplus and the car can then return it to the power grid.
Tesla Powerwall units can store energy, providing them for use to power home appliances and can also power vehicles. (Image Credit: Natalie Grono, Bloomberg Markets)
The United States will also be joining in on this feat by turning their yellow school buses into electrically powered vehicles. Macon, Ga.-based Blue Bird Corp. will begin selling their battery-powered vehicles with two-way connections to the power grid before the end of the year.
Automakers are also joining in on the electricity ecosystem. They’re doing more than just producing EVs that can return power to the grid. For example, Nissan produces and sells energy-storage products. Whereas, Volkswagen plans on supplying small businesses and houses with renewable energy through Elli Group GmbH.
Storage batteries are already cheaper than power plants in parts of the U.S. Power plants are usually hazardous to the environment because they rely on the burning of fossil fuels to power up their plants, which is only needed for a few weeks during the Summer when demand is high.
Duke plans on investing over $500 million in battery storage projects over the next 15 years. Utilities around the world are taking into consideration how battery systems can be implemented into networks, possibly eliminating the need to invest in power plants in the future.
The Hornsdale Power Reserve, the world’s largest operating lithium-ion battery facility, is stationed 150 miles north of Adelaide in South Australia, which consists of 2-meter-high Tesla battery systems tethered to 99 wind turbines. French energy company Neoen SA invested €56 million on the power reserve. It has the capability to distribute electricity to 30,000 residential homes. However, the main purpose of the plant is to help stabilize any fluctuations in supply and demand and to help prevent power outages in large areas.
Australia will be adding battery storage systems to 60,000 homes this year alone, making them the largest yet in residential battery storage on the market.
“I wouldn’t want to be a utility provider, particularly in the suburbs, in another 30 years,” says James Kennedy, chief technology officer at Brisbane-based Tritium Pty. “What might sound like science fiction is, in reality, only two or three years away.”
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