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Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed 245

Posted by samzenpus
from the store-it-up dept.
ashshy writes Unlike the obvious battery needs for smartphones or electric cars, many consumers are unaware of the exploding need for enormous battery banks as modern power grids are bringing a whole new set of requirements. From the article: "'Our electricity grid was built a certain way, and that way is to have on-demand production,' Argonne National Laboratory battery researcher Jeff Chamberlain explained. 'So as I flip my light switch on at home, there's some little knob somewhere that turns the power up. There is no buffer. It's a very interesting production cycle compared to other consumer goods. It was built a certain way, and the grid is currently changing in two different ways. One is, first our demand is increasing. But another is, around the world human beings are trying to get off fossil fuels and that means using solar and wind. Well, we cannot turn up the sun or wind, or turn down the sun or wind according to our energy needs. So the more those technologies penetrate the grid, the more you need energy storage. You need a buffer. And that is a very difficult challenge that's similar to transportation because it's cost-driven,' Chamberlain said. 'But it's also different from transportation because we're not limited by volume or mass like we are in vehicles. We're working on energy storage systems that are stationary.'"
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Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed

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  • Finally! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by war4peace (1628283) on Monday September 01, 2014 @03:34PM (#47802025)

    Some good use for Graphene! ...in theory.

    • by xQx (5744) on Monday September 01, 2014 @07:15PM (#47803135)

      https://www.ted.com/talks/dona... [ted.com]

      Basically the same technology used in aluminum smelter, with liquid salt for the battery...

      Does anyone know if this ever got off the ground?

      • Does anyone know if this ever got off the ground?

        To quote the wikipedia page on molten salt batteries [wikipedia.org]

        Magnesium–antimony cells

        In 2009, Donald Sadoway and his team proposed a very low cost molten salt battery originally[20] based on magnesium and antimony separated by a salt[21] that could be potentially used in Grid energy storage systems.[22] Research on this concept is being funded by ARPA-E,[23] Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures and Total S.A.[24] Experimental data showed 69% storage efficiency, it had good storage capacity (over 1000mAh/cm2) and relatively low leakage (

      • by fyngyrz (762201) on Monday September 01, 2014 @08:59PM (#47803603) Homepage Journal

        I like pumped storage:

        o Lovely water recreation areas - swimmable, boatable, fishable
        o So while it costs land, it returns most of that land for public use
        o Fish and other aquacritter habitat
        o excellent control of recovery rate
        o doesn't significantly wear out (and if you were to make it underground, won't even evaporate... expensive, but...)
        o easy maintenance
        o highly scenic
        o No red-hot nothing, no batteries, works fine unless it freezes (so in higher latitudes... not good.) ...there's lots of pumped storage already [wikipedia.org] (~104 GW). More. More! MOAR!

        I *also* like this idea for pumped transport:

        Imagine a C shape that is almost closed -- just a few feet short of meeting at the ends. It's an almost circular canal. From one end of the C, you pump water into the other end of the C (and add any replacement volume required by evaporation.) This creates a current that operates the entire length of the C. Now, put two of these next to each other. Pump the second one in the opposite direction. Put cranes (or locks) at the ends, so that transport platforms can be moved from one direction to the other. Cost? Initially, Pumps, cranes, canal, transport platforms. In operation: pump energy (solar, please) and evaporation refill. Unless you roof it. :) Length? very, very amazingly long, and if roofed, even longer.

        Air pressure. Gravity. Water. Make it work for us. :)

      • See also: https://ironedison.com/ [ironedison.com]

        • And: http://cleantechnica.com/2012/... [cleantechnica.com]
          "Nickel-Iron (Ni-Fe) batteries -- developed over a century ago by Thomas Edison -- are gradually replacing lead-acid batteries at a number of applications, especially for solar PV and renewable energy power systems. Unlike lead-acid batteries, they are highly reliable, featuring a longer service life and pollution-free operation.
          "The Nickel-Iron technology is great, because it's like rediscovering this great invention," adds Williams. "The fact that Thoma

          • by dbIII (701233)
            Compressed air also works in underwater balloons along the same lines as the salt mines as a cheaper alternative to pressure vessels. It's well paired with offshore wind.
            Compressed air is a very lossy energy storage method but it's well tried and convenient.
  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Monday September 01, 2014 @03:38PM (#47802053) Homepage Journal
    Storage could be nice and also substitute for transmission but it may not be as large a market as they anticipate: http://www.engineering.com/Ele... [engineering.com]
    • by haruchai (17472) on Monday September 01, 2014 @03:56PM (#47802157)

      Huge amounts of grid storage are probably not required in the short term but having some cheap storage to handle short-term fluctuations will make the grid operators jobs easier and will keep down the peak costs.

      Now if something like Isentropic's Pumped Heat Energy Storage pans out and is cheaper than batteries, that would be a radical shift in the electricity market.
      Where could you not find a place to build 2 large-ish tanks filled with gravel & argon?
      Every large wind farm, power plant or community could build its own local energy storage and there's not a huge upkeep on a system based on pebbles & inert gas.

      http://www.isentropic.co.uk/ [isentropic.co.uk]

  • by RichMan (8097) on Monday September 01, 2014 @03:39PM (#47802057)

    Aside from the big supply end solutions there are also demand end solution opportunitues.
    Because we have day and night consumer rates there is a market oppotunity for an appropriatly priced home storage unit able to shift night power to day power.

    • Its all about lifetime cost, and there really isn't a battery technology with an acceptable lifetime cost yet, nor any time soon. If low cost, high energy density, and long lasting ever is achieved, we'll see quite a huge market for it.
  • by barlevg (2111272) on Monday September 01, 2014 @03:39PM (#47802059)
    I've been hearing about batteries being needed for sun and wind is as long as I've been hearing about sun and wind...
    • I've been hearing about batteries being needed for sun and wind is as long as I've been hearing about sun and wind...

      Exactly. It's more like "yet another market that needs a cheap solution"

  • Yes, we know that. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday September 01, 2014 @03:43PM (#47802079) Homepage

    Battery storage for bulk power has been talked up for years. Mostly by the wind industry. With solar power, you get peak power and peak air conditioning load around the same time. Wind varies about 4:1 over 24 hours, even when averaged across big areas (California or the eastern seaboard). So the wind guys desperately need to store power generated at 4AM, when it's nearly worthless, so they can resell at 2PM. When the wind farm companies start installing batteries at their own expense, this will be a real technology.

    With the US glut of natural gas, this isn't needed right now. Natural gas peaking plants aren't all that expensive to build, and make money even if they only run for maybe 6 hours a day. That covers most peak needs.

    There are other ways to store energy. Some of the dams of the California Water Project have reversible turbines, which can run either as pumps or generators. They pump water uphill at night, when power is cheap, and let it down during the afternoon to generate power. Since the dams and pumps are needed for water handling anyway, this adds little cost.

    • by Mike_EE_U_of_I (1493783) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:09PM (#47802233)

      Battery storage for bulk power has been talked up for years. Mostly by the wind industry. With solar power, you get peak power and peak air conditioning load around the same time.

      I agree that has been historically true, but that's changing fast. Once Solar PV penetration gets to the point where about 5% of all the electricity is coming from solar PV, it starts to get really expensive to handle the load swings. To be clear, I mean 5% of total electrical demand for the year. That means the instantaneous peaks will be in the ballpark of 50% of grid energy coming from solar.

        Most countries are very far from this point, but Germany and Italy are there today. Both countries have dramatically slowed their adoption of solar PV, mostly because of grid integration issues. All of those issues would be solved with cheap storage.

      • by Chas (5144)

        Once Solar PV penetration gets to the point where about 5% of all electricity is coming from solar PV..

        Uhm. You realize you're talking almost a (not even taking into account rising consumption) 20-fold increase right?

        Currently Solar (all kinds), accounts for 0.34% of all energy consumed in the US. And that's AFTER a record-setting 41% increase in new installation.

        Even if solar stays at this sort of growth rate, you're still talking nearly 10 years before it hits the levels you're talking about (again, NOT taking into account increases in consumption).

        And, honestly, people have been trying to eak out more c

        • You are forgetting something. 2 somethings to be more precise.
          1. As solar tech gets better it gets more installed. As it gets more installed economy of scale allows for lower prices. As the prices drop they get more installed. Rinse and repeat untill the minimum price of the tech is reached. During that time some companies will have invested in additional research to lower the price per watt.
          Rinse, repeat.

          2. There are only a few solar concentrator towers now. Those will be build faster and faster if the pri

      • by dbIII (701233)

        That means the instantaneous peaks will be in the ballpark of 50% of grid energy coming from solar.

        Is that EE is your username a mere unused decoration or an utter lie? Who outside of bad science fiction is suggesting 50% of grid energy coming from solar?

        If you are going to push an agenda please at least be honest about it and perhaps advocate your agenda instead of trashing what you see as opposition. Solar is in the mainstream now whether we like it or not so we have to deal with it.

    • Can't the wind farms just use gas turbines instead of batteries as long as those are cheaper? I'd assume batteries will be used if/when they become the cheapest way to handle the balancing.

      Some day soon, in some areas, there will be enough solar to handle most power needs at peak insolation. When that happens, we'll have significantly cheaper grid power in the day than during the night. Then we'll see how much of the balancing water can do and if batteries can outcompete gas for the rest.
      • by Firethorn (177587)

        Can't the wind farms just use gas turbines instead of batteries as long as those are cheaper? I'd assume batteries will be used if/when they become the cheapest way to handle the balancing.

        1. Gas turbine designs for wind power exist, but are currently not 'mainstream', ergo more expensive and less efficient per watt produced. You're looking at a 10-15% drop in joules produced per year* for a given turbine size.

        2. In order for them to have an effective amount of 'battery' you need some sort of air storage facility. There are underground formations that are ideal for this, but those are often used to store other things and thus, selection is limited. Just building a giant pressure vessel i

    • by MrL0G1C (867445)

      Gas peakers use jet engines for quick starts, the electricity generated cost $0.19 per kWh, quite expensive.

      With all of the new electric cars hitting the market lithium-ion batteries have finally dropped in cost Tesla + Panasonic are currently building a mega-factory to build cheap Li-ion batteries, cost is expected to drop below $100 per kwh of storage capacity.

      I don't see why compressed air storage couldn't be cheap with sufficient investment. Geothermal can also be used for peak demand, it's another huge

    • With solar power, you get peak power and peak air conditioning load around the same time.

      Not quite. Peak demand in California is between 6 to 7PM, peak solar production is approximately 12 noon. Peak load does not drop signficantly until well after sunset.

      • According to PG&E, that is not accurate.

        Peak demand on the PG&E grid in the Summer is 1200-1800 PDT, the time when a westerly-facing solar array would be generating maximum electricity.

        Lowest demand is between 2130 and 0830, when there would be little or no solar generation.

        If you give bonus incentives to line up solar arrays on the Western roof or at a slightly westerly angle, peak demand in the Summer in California would line up almost perfectly with peak generation.

        During the winter, the demand s

        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          Peak demand on the PG&E grid in the Summer is 1200-1800 PDT

          I am not sure if you are intentionally lying but here is the California outlook [caiso.com] for supply and demand from PG&E. Notice the peak is between 5PM and 6PM and the demand does not drop off to noon levels until 11PM. Today's sunset in California is about 7PM so much of that higher energy use is after the sun goes down so angling the panels will not help much. Look a little further down the page I linked. Notice that between 5-6pm the supply from solar drops from 70% of noon maximum to 37% of maximum even tho

          • PG&E sets its rates based on AVERAGE demand. The peak demand for the Summer is 1200-1800 (these are the times the grid is typically strained the most) which is why the peak rate occurs at this time.

            I'm not sure why you think one data point constitutes some kind of disproof of PG&E's peak-demand rate schedule. It's akin pointing to the declining temperatures in Green Bay between August and February as proof against global warming.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Peak demand in California is between 6 to 7PM, peak solar production is approximately 12 noon.

        You're apparently talking about PV. Solar thermal power production lags behind peak solar output by a bit, and continues producing a bit after sunset, much as air-conditioners do.

        And in any case, you're oversimplifying it too much. The very peak of demand may be 6pm, but demand is very, very high for several hours throughout the afternoon, and tracks pretty closely with solar output...

  • by mspohr (589790) on Monday September 01, 2014 @03:50PM (#47802127)

    I believe that Tesla has this as a target market. A recent article about a Tesla factory tour mentioned that they were in the process of assembling a 4000 kwh battery pack to be used for fixed place energy storage (the cars are 60 or 85 kwh). Tesla will have an amazing capacity to produce batteries once they build their "gigafactory" (supposedly greater capacity that all of the existing Li battery factories) and it seems that they are looking to have a business selling battery packs.

  • What if you were working on batteries the size of a tractor trailer that had the energy density to power large cities for a week or two. Then you wouldn't need the grid. You could just drive the battery to where it could be charged, near the wind or sun, then when it was full, move it to the place where it was needed.

    I appreciate the real time complexity of the power grid, but it is time to rethink distribution. It would be cool if every house in the USA could get off the grid through local energy storag

    • For powering a city for a week or two a tractor trailer sized battery ain't gonna cut it. Unless you sneakily fill it with an unshielded nuclear reactor with a magical heat-energy conversion (size being the impossible limit).
      There is a reason most coal plants suitable to power a city have water or train supply lines: that amount of coal delivered by truck is not feasible.

      Solar is the future, but for storage for a city for a day you are talking about a large parking lot filled with battery containers. Even w

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday September 01, 2014 @03:58PM (#47802171)

    With pretty good reliability, any "report" like that is followed by someone direly needing taxpayer funding to provide ... whatever, ignoring that profit originally was supposed to be reinvested instead of dumped on some idiots that are already overpaid.

  • by blue_teeth (83171) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:02PM (#47802187)
    The Japanese seem to be building a 60 mega watt hour battery based on this technology.
  • by OzPeter (195038) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:03PM (#47802197)

    The largest battery in the world already exists in Virginia.

    Bath County Pumped Storage Station [wikipedia.org]

    Which can deliver 3 GIGAWATT for a metric shitload of time

    • by Mr.CRC (2330444)
      If my arithmetic is right, this thing can run for 14 hrs? Ie, about 52GWh of stored energy. This is awesome! We'd need about 150 of these to solve the "storage problem" wholesale for the entire US.
  • I've been posting about this, and the spin some politicians are pushing is reprehensible. Recently, Arizona allowed fees [businessweek.com] to charge rooftop-based solar energy producers for the privilege of selling or donating electrons to others for use. A few incredible or insane politicians are trying to spin it as if solar adopters are leeches despite the fact that they already pay for interconnect fees and all the excess energy they use.

    The alternative, of course, is to go completely off the grid using your own batterie

    • by evilviper (135110)

      Substations convert and distribute 220 to your neighborhood, from high tension wires from the power plants.

      Line voltage may even go up from 110

      What are you, 200 years old? How are your carbon filament lights doing these days?

      125V and 240V+ is typical US line voltage. If you're seeing 110V and 220V, your (knob and tube?) wiring is ready to catch fire...

      Batteries are one method, but flywheels can work well, too. They could spin up a flywheel to consume the excess energy, then release it later as-needed (e.g

      • Sorry, localizing the storage vs storage far away, like tfa is talking about, is far more efficient. There's certainly loss on storage and retrieval.

        However, I've seen several local substation proposals for storing energy using banks of flywheels, and even more for rail.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          However, I've seen several local substation proposals for storing energy using banks of flywheels, and even more for rail.

          Anybody can "propose" any ridiculous thing they want. It's a common trick for companies to say they're "working on" something that's going to be better than everything else out there. That's where the term "vaporware" comes in.

          Point me to one single flywheel that can store energy without massive losses over the course of one day (on earth, not in space). All existing units are "for mi

          • by evilviper (135110)

            Try this one:

            The main disadvantages of flywheels are the high-cost and the relatively high standing losses. Self-discharge rates for complete flywheel systems are high, with minimum rate of 20% of the stored capacity per hour. These high rates have the effect of deteriorating energy efficiency when cycling is not continuous, for example when energy is stored for a period between charge and discharge. Such high discharge rates reinforce the notion that flywheels are not an adequate device for long-term energ

    • This again? Where does this shit come from? Substations feed large areas. It should be obvious that a couple of hundred PV panels cannot feed entire collections of suburbs that contain shops, light industry etc. Even with a vast increase in the number of panels on roofs, maybe ten or twenty times what there is now, it's still going to fall short of powering all those things without - THERE IS NO SURPLUS TO BACKFLOW THROUGH THE SUBSTATION.
      I'm curious - where the fuck are you guys getting this from? Did
  • Here in the UK, we have a gas grid as well as an electric grid. If it was not for the commitment to the Victorian solution of massive centralisation, and vested interests, we would convert the energy to gas, send it over the grid, and generate electricity at the point of need. We have "gasometers" (gas holders) everywhere and have had since before electricity - when gas was used for lighting. Sure it would be 10-15% less efficient, but the electricity grid loses 30% of the power anyway! (and the waste heat
    • The electric grid loses about 5% - 7% of its power due to transportation.
      Actually some wind plants in Germany do that. Feeding H2 created by electrolysis into the gas grid and using a gas turbine connected to the gas grid during high demand. (Well, you combine a wind farm/park with one gas turbine obviously)

      • by brambus (3457531)

        Feeding H2 created by electrolysis into the gas grid and using a gas turbine connected to the gas grid during high demand.

        Can you quote some references for this? Because I'm kinda skeptical they're "feeding H2 ... into the gas grid". They might feed methane after combining the H2 with a source of carbon to create CH4, losing at least 50% of the input energy in the process (and another 25% after combustion in a CCGT, or more in an OCGT), plus needing a carbon sources (typically biomass, but can be CCS). But as for molecular H2 in a natural gas pipe ... no chance.

    • For American readers: gas means a gaseous hydrocarbon, and not a liquid one.

      You mean something like the "gas" we get from the gas company to power our water heaters (and frequently provide heating in the winter - it makes less than good sense to burn gas to make electricity, then use the electricity to make heat, when you could just burn the gas to make heat directly), I take it?

      Yes, we use "gas" too, and not just the kind you call "petrol"....

  • I build robots and they all suck, they suck because they don't have enough power. I could potentially load them up with $1,000 worth of Lithium based batteries or two tons worth of lead acid batteries but for a robot that I want to follow my cat I am not sure that it is worth it. If I want to build a real robot that will go out in to the real world and do real things then I need batteries. It is one thing to have smooth rolling robots running over a smooth surface and not using much power. But to have an ag
    • by TeknoHog (164938)

      I build robots and they all suck

      Fembots?

      • by ihtoit (3393327)

        Oh, to have mod points! My first thought as well. My second thought was "Lucy Liu Bot".

  • I've been interested in this for some time. Here are some solutions I've come across:
    Something like a standard battery
    Flow batteries, where you store liquid electrolytes in tanks, and energy capacity is proportional to the capacity of the tanks
    Salt/Liquid metal batteries. Take the process for smelting aluminium, and make it reversible. (The metal used need not be aluminium.) There is a good TED talk on this.
    Fixed volume compressed gas storage: pump gas into a pressure vessel or abandoned mine
    Fixed pressure

    • I am like this guy; looked into all the same stuff over the years.
      Additions:

      Flywheels: Dept. E helped develop viable designs which scale long ago but the costs keep it a niche product for data centers needing a buffer while the gas generators turn on.

      Elevated Mass: ridiculous idea from a green website last year by some german engineer or professor. When I did the math, I figured I'd have to move the whole house 3m upward to get enough mass/power as a $30,000 battery pack (it's more feasible if you have a c

  • Regardless of how good battery tech gets, it will always be easier to store money than to store energy. How can the former substitute for the latter? There are some latency-insensitive electricity consumers, like heating, cooling, pumping water, etc. While there's a shortage of supply, give the consumers an incentive to store money (not pay for expensive electricity) until there's more supply, and they can make up for the backlog then.

    Letting the electricity price float is a natural way to give consumer

  • I found a very interesting report from California ISO about the difficulties of integratong large amounts of solar into the grid. It is all about the Duck Chart [caiso.com]. It revolves around how conventional supply has to adjust to compensate for the supply of solar based electricity. You can read the report to get the fine points but the issue is the steepness of the duck's neck. During the day solar can supply a lot of electricity. During that time demand on conventional supply is low. That is called the belly of t

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