The new battery that could revolutionise renewable energy

The problem with energy from renewables like solar and wind power is that you can’t store it. Which means that when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing you need a baseload generating capacity from the likes of nuclear, coal or gas to ensure that the lights stay on.

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Although the cost of different technologies varies there is always a financial implication in keeping power stations on standby. Also keeping a gas or coal power station in a state where its output can be ramped up to meet demand isn’t a particularly efficient use of fuel. These technologies are at their most effective when running at maximum capacity.

Large scale problem

None of this is a particular issue for installations such as domestic solar panels in Swansea as householders rely on the grid. But solar installations don’t work after dark of course. That’s an issue because peak home energy demand tends to be in the mornings and evenings, whereas peak solar generation is in the middle of the day.

For industry though it’s a much bigger problem since factories and data centres depend on an uninterrupted supply. They may have standby diesel generators to overcome interruptions but this too is relatively inefficient and costly.

Things would be much easier if there was a way to effectively store energy produced from renewable sources and release it as required. Well, maybe now there is.

The battery that can

Electric car maker Tesla has produced a technology called Powerwall. It’s a battery that makes it possible to store the energy generated by panels from and similar, then release it later when you need it but the panels aren’t generating energy.

It uses lithium ion battery technology pioneered in electric cars, so it’s compact and low maintenance. Multiple units can be installed where there’s more energy demand. So popular has this idea proved that the units are now sold out until the middle of 2016.

Where Tesla’s battery really could revolutionise the renewables industry though is in its industrial Powerpack version. This is a larger capacity version that would allow businesses to generate more of their own power from renewables and become less reliant on buying energy from the grid. Ultimately if adopted on a large enough scale it could help reduce the need for baseload generating capacity.

Future applications

This type of technology opens up new possibilities too. It could, for example, be used in community energy schemes where the power from solar panels or wind turbines around a neighbourhood could be pooled in large central storage batteries. It could then be fed back to people’s homes in the evening. Potentially this type of system could eliminate the need for a connection to the grid entirely.

We’re still a long way off being able to do away with our power stations, however, as energy storage technology continues to improve it is a likely that we’ll start to become less reliant on them in years to come. You could be powering your home with your own solar energy even after dark.

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