The cost of wind and Solar power generation has plummeted considerably in recent decades. This is one of the reasons why the US Department of Energy expects renewable energy to be the fastest-growing energy source in the US by 2050. Energy storage, on the other hand, is still quite expensive. And, because renewable energy generation is intermittent – it occurs when the wind blows or the sun shines – storage is critical.
I work with the federal government and private sector to develop renewable energy storage technologies as a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. According to NREL researchers, there is the potential to enhance renewable energy storage capacity in the United States by as much as 3,000 percent by 2050. Here are three new technologies that may be able to assist in this endeavour.
Most people already utilise batteries in many facets of their everyday life, from alkaline batteries for small electronics to lithium-ion batteries for cars and computers. However, there is still a lot of opportunity for improvement. High-capacity batteries with lengthy discharge times – up to 10 hours – could be useful for storing Solar energy at night or extending the range of electric vehicles, for instance.
Only a few of these batteries are in use right now. However, new forecasts suggest that by 2050, up to 100 gigawatts of these batteries will be built. That’s 50 times the producing capacity of Hoover Dam, to put it in perspective. This could jeopardise renewable energy’s viability. Limited quantities of lithium and cobalt, which are currently required for the production of lightweight, powerful batteries, are one of the most significant roadblocks. Around 10% of the world’s lithium deposits and nearly all of the world’s cobalt stocks are expected to be depleted by 2050, according to some estimates.