The advances in renewable energy technologies over the past few months are both encouraging and exciting but the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) warns that there’s a critical component involved in delivering all of this energy to the world’s power grids that needs a major overhaul: storage.
In a study that was published in the journal Chemical Reviews, PNNL researchers indicate that, in order to compete with natural gas as an energy alternative, new electro-chemical energy storage (EES) systems need to be developed. The report also shows that not only do these new EES systems need to be developed soon, but they need to be robust, durable, safe and affordable.
“EES system” is really a fancy name for what we more commonly refer to as a battery. The systems work a lot like the rechargeable batteries we use at home but on a much grander scale. We feed the battery with energy and it is stored chemically until we need it later when it is converted back to electrons for use. PNNL reported on four different EES system types: vanadium redox flow, sodium-beta alumina membrane, lithium-ion and lead-carbon batteries. In each case they pointed out what works best with the systems but, more importantly, what needs to be improved to make them a viable option. Currently, the electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels has to be used immediately. With improved storage mediums, the power could be stored on the long term and used when and where it is needed.
The study underscores the importance of R&D into storage systems as part of a comprehensive approach to integrating renewable energy sources into our power grids. “By improving EES technologies, industry could tap into a near endless supply of wind and solar power and drastically reduce the dependence on fossil fuels to meet growing demand for electricity,” said Z. Gary Yang, PNNL laboratory fellow and lead author of the paper.