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Power Government

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

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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  • 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 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. []

  • by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:06PM (#47802211)

    Here's a high-level explanation of how the PHES system works - []

  • Re:flywheel (Score:5, Informative)

    by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:06PM (#47802213)

    There's a much easier solution, already in operation - pumped hydro power plants. They're hydro electric power stations, but when there's a surplus of supply, they pump water up into their reservoir. When peaks of power production are needed, they generate. They can be turned on at a moments notice (all it takes is opening a sluice, and dropping the water), and can store vast amounts of energy.

  • Re:Build more nukes! (Score:5, Informative)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @05:50PM (#47802749)

    Nuclear ships have a very simple way around this: They run at full power most of the time, and dump the excess energy when not needed to run the engines.

    Umm, no.

    Former Naval Nuke guy here...we didn't run the plant at full power most of the time. We seldom ran it at half power.

    Yeah, the nuke plant on a sub or surface ship is engineered differently than a power reactor ashore. Among other things, the fraction of the maximum output dedicated to making electricity is generally quite small, since we need steam more than we need electricity.

    Even so, we didn't operate near max electrical output all that often either, much less maximum steam output.

  • by stomv ( 80392 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @06:30PM (#47802925) Homepage

    Pumped storage ... needs specific geography, high and low reservoirs close to each other to reduce losses pumping water uphill over long distances. It also needs a guaranteed supply of water, lots of it and the sunny parts of the US where large amounts of solar power are being generated are distinctly lacking in water

    One only needs a low reservoir (see the Taum Sauk). Furthermore, while pumped storage certainly isn't a good idea in the Southwest, it is ideal in the Great Lakes area, where there's tons of wind resources (see: Iowa, Minnesota, etc.). And, as it turns out, there is a (functionally) infinite supply of water in Lake Michigan and a functionally infinite amount of land with delta h on the West Coast of Michigan, which has hills immediately adjacent to the Lake due to thousands of years of wind blowing from Wisconsin to Michigan. A storage plant like this already exists, just south of Ludington MI. We could easily build 100 GW worth of pumped storage there, equal to the capacity of all nuclear power in the US.

    Pumped storage is also lossy, typically about 65% efficient round-trip.

    My experience is that the average is closer to 75%, and it can be as high as 90% with modern, well maintained pumped storage. Pumped storage also has extremely fast ramping capabilities, making it very useful for the minute-by-minute operation of the grid. Of course pumped storage, like all major power plants, requires transmission investment to be fully useful.

    Grid gas, coal and nuclear generators don't need storage as they either run flat out to meet the instantaneous demand and they can throttle back in quieter times.

    Nuclear, coal, and gas steam plants have very real operational limitations. Nuclear is almost never ramped back to follow load; it's cheaper in the long run to pay negative locational marginal prices (LMPs) if need be. Coal and gas steam can only ramp a few MW per minute, and have minimum outputs whereby they can't maintain power any lower -- and that's often at about 50% of capacity. At that point, any lower output requires a shut down, and then a 12-30 hour cool down whereby the unit can't be restarted. Nuclear, coal, and gas steam are extremely inflexible generators relative to hydro, gas/oil CT, and even gas CC.

    At the moment intermittent wind and solar generators use the grid as free storage but the more intermittent power that is added to the generating mix the more that storage will be needed to deal with peak inputs and debits.

    Free storage? Wind and solar fueled generators, like all generators, sell the energy instantaneously. Your metaphor makes no sense. All operating power plants sell in real-time. Same price for the same power. Eventually, substantially more storage will have economic value, but on the mainland US grid, not for a long time. California is poised to have 33% renewables by 2020, and they don't need additional storage. (There's an order for ~1.5 GW of storage to be procured, but it's not needed -- it's CA's way of pushing progress forward, seeing that eventually storage will be a less expensive resource (LCOE) than CTs.) Most other parts of the mainland won't have exceeded 10% non-dispatchable renewables by then.

    Getting wind and solar farm operators to pay for this extra storage probably isn't going to happen, sadly.

    Why should they? In most of tUSA, there's a day ahead and a real time market. Power has a price (LMP). Generators can sell into that market or not. When supply exceeds demand, the LMP goes negative, and all generators who are operating are equally responsible for the problem; all generators who are operating at those times pay the same financial penalty. That includes operating wind and solar and the nuclear and gas and coal that can't turn down.

    In the mean time, the number of MWh that are curtailed is a tiny, tiny fraction of the total MWh consumed in America. Storage simply isn't very valuable on the American grid right now because we

  • by Mr.CRC ( 2330444 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @07:03PM (#47803083)

    A common misconception: "Scientific facts have been over turned time and time again."

    No scientific facts have ever been overturned, because there are no scientific facts. You are only partially correct about theories.

    There are scientific laws, theories, and hypotheses. Scientific laws, which were once theories, have been supported by so many years of consistent observational data that the confidence bounds on their correctness are so tight that it is essentially impossible that they will ever be falsified.

    As such, NO scientific laws have ever been overturned. Rather, for ex. Newton's laws of motion, were REFINED by quantum mechanics and relativity so that the laws continue to work correctly at extremes of observability that weren't available to Newton. But over the domain in which Newton's laws were formulated, they are still valid to within any desired tolerance. So they are just as correct today as when Newton expressed them, and they have been that way since the beginning of time and will remain so until the universe is over. The same is true of Maxwell's equations, the gas laws, the laws of thermodynamics, and every other law that I can't recall.

    Evolution is a theory, which means that it doesn't have the confidence levels of a law, but is supported by a huge wealth of consistent observations and basically no falsifying ones. That means that even if inconsistencies are observed, they will be subtle and change only our understanding of the mechanisms of evolution, but not the overall basic thesis. It is remotely possible that some evidence will be found that will completely overturn evolution, but it is so remote that you are more likely to die by getting struck by lightning twice on the day a cure for cancer is announced, and after you just won the lottery.

    Also importantly, there are basically no competing theories to evolution that are supported by even a shred of *reproducible,* non-circularly speculative, evidence. No, the writings in some book are not evidence, because there is no basis to establish that your favorite novel which states "the contents of this novel are the truth" is any more truthful than any other supposedly self-proving novel written by anybody at all.

    Global warming, or whatever it's called these days, and many of the pronouncements of the medical science establishment, such as that you should eat lots of carbs and low fat in order to reduce the likelyhood of getting heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, are hypotheses that are to be seriously questioned. In the latter case, it's looking like the evidence is already becoming clear that it is just plain wrong, and killing people to boot. But because of entrenched interests, there will be resistance to admitting fault and correcting the errors for as long as possible.

    These should serve as stern warnings to those who proclaim that the "science is established" for their favorite, political and social identity-reinforcing scientifico-ideologies, that while the *scientific method* is indeed infallible, and is no doubt (along with mathematics) one of the crown jewels of human intellectual accomplishment, the implementation of that method by humans is in no way perfect. Even peer-reviewed research is highly fallible.

    Even in the case where the science may indeed be right, such as with global warming which I think is most likely being accelerated by humans and which will probably have undesirable consequences (of highly uncertain magnitude) unless we do something different, it is important not to confuse the scientific realities with the practical realities.

    Just because you may be technically correct, it is still possible that there is no way to fix it because of factors which are not amenable to technological control and optimization. For ex., anyone with a brain can predict that the most likely outcome of any of the existing proposed political solutions to global warming are likely to both not solve the problem, and make matters generally worse for the human conditio

  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @07:43PM (#47803255) Homepage Journal

    Because I try not to respond to ACs, I'll stick it in here.

    As you pointed out, Nuclear ships DO NOT run their plants at 'full power all the time'.

    But even HUGE nuclear plants can be built to be capable of 'load following', [] going from 100% down to 50% and below [] on a consistent basis. France [] has a number of them.

    Part of the problem with using reactors for load-following is that all the reactors in the USA are very old Gen-II designs, you need to be at least 'newer' Gen-II to do a lot of load following, and we don't have enough nuclear for them to NEED to load-follow, leaving them as the cheapest margin for on-demand power.

    If we went from our current mix of about 20% nuclear, 40% coal, to a carbon-neutral mix of 40% nuclear, 20% solar, 20% wind, and 20% 'other, including hydro', you'd have most of your peaking power in 'other', but nuclear power would still have to adjust for peaking.

  • 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 [] (~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. :)

Your code should be more efficient!