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Power Businesses

To Hit Climate Goals, Bill Gates and His Billionaire Friends Are Betting on Energy Storage (qz.com) 225

Akshat Rathi, writing for Quartz: The world needs radical new energy technologies to fight climate change. In 2016, Quartz reported that a group of billionaires -- including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Mukesh Ambani, and Richard Branson -- launched Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) to invest at least $1 billion in creating those technologies. Now, 18 months later, Quartz can reveal the first two startups that BEV will be investing in: Form Energy and Quidnet Energy. Both companies are developing new technologies to store energy, but taking completely different approaches to achieve that goal.

The way to reach the world's climate goals is straightforward: reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions to zero within the next few decades. But the energy technologies that can help us get there tend to need lots of money and long lead times to develop. That's why many conventional investors, who are looking for quicker returns, have burned their fingers investing in clean tech. The wealthy investors of BEV want to remedy that. Their $1 billion fund is "patient capital," to be invested in only companies working on technologies capable of cutting global carbon emissions by at least 500 million metric tons annually, even if they may not provide returns on investment for up to 20 years.

To Hit Climate Goals, Bill Gates and His Billionaire Friends Are Betting on Energy Storage

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  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @11:29AM (#56771976)

    Energy storage technologies are about increasing efficiencies of power generation. So power companies are paying less in fuel for power that is just wasted.

    • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @12:06PM (#56772146) Journal

      Energy storage technologies are about increasing efficiencies of power generation.

      Partly but the other big reason is that the two major forms of renewable energy - solar and wind - both rely on intermittent power sources which are not always available. If you can store this energy for use at night or on a calm day then there is no need to burn any fuel at all.

      However, I am a little concerned about the "pressure water" storage system which replaced reservoirs with high pressure underground storage. This might work but it seems that you are replacing the limitations of reservoirs with the complications of fracking which has been shown to cause severe, localized earthquakes. Batteries seem a far safer way to go if you need to overcome the limitations of pumped storage schemes.

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        Partly but the other big reason is that the two major forms of renewable energy - solar and wind - both rely on intermittent power sources which are not always available. If you can store this energy for use at night or on a calm day then there is no need to burn any fuel at all.

        This is a huge win, to be sure. Of current power technologies, only solar scales to 10 billion people consuming at American rates. But solar only scales with energy storage that scales with it.

        However, I am a little concerned about the "pressure water" storage system which replaced reservoirs with high pressure underground storage. This might work but it seems that you are replacing the limitations of reservoirs with the complications of fracking which has been shown to cause severe, localized earthquakes. Batteries seem a far safer way to go if you need to overcome the limitations of pumped storage schemes.

        You're just proving that hippies are going to complain about every solution, so best just to ignore their whining.

    • Indeed. Improving electrical storage would have benefits for many applications, not just for reducing carbon emissions.
    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      Energy storage technologies are about increasing efficiencies of power generation. So power companies are paying less in fuel for power that is just wasted.

      Enabling "renewable" power sources to be base load is a big win, and requires energy storage if you don't have other sources able to take up the slack.

      But it won't get us off fossil fuels entirely. A big chunk of consumed power (about a third IIRC) is "primary thermal". From blast furnaces in a steel mill to home heating with gas, we burn a lot of fuel in ways that electricity is never involved. Especially for heavy industry, it won't all be solar.

      • From blast furnaces in a steel mill to home heating with gas, we burn a lot of fuel in ways that electricity is never involved.

        Well, can't think of any obvious way to get around the need for blast furnaces, but it IS possible to heat your home with electric rather than gas. Currently very expensive compared to gas, but it's doable, especially if electricity prices go down fairly dramatically as a result of the transition away from fossil fuels....

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          Gas is amazingly cheap, while replacing the furnace in the attic is all kinds of impractical. I expect new houses will be built with gas heating for some time to come, mostly because gas stoves are popular and once you've run the gas line to the house, heating everything else with gas makes sense.

    • It's a great start, 1 billion for that group is such a small number though, for Bezos alone it's less than 1% of his net worth. Why not invest 1 billion EACH, then another 1 billion EACH giving away free solar and wind installations for schools, libraries, and parks, get the ball moving faster...

    • It's straight forward. All you have to do is wave some branches and burn some goat entrails--the sun will bless you with good crops and many sons.

      Magical thinking is going to be the labelled as the harbinger of a declining advanced society. glhf

  • But storage of what? Winding down the fossil fuel economy means more than just making bigger batteries. You still need an energy source, otherwise you're just standing still.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @12:06PM (#56772144)

      Winding down the fossil fuel economy means more than just making bigger batteries.

      Storage is a big part of the solution.

      A gas turbine can spin when demand is high, and slow down when it is low.

      Wind turbines don't work that way. They spin when the wind blows.

      There are alternatives to storage:
      1. Long distance HVDC transmission, to move supply to demand over a larger area.
      2. Flex-pricing, to shift demand instead of shifting supply.
      These will help, but you still need storage.

      • by eth1 ( 94901 )

        The best alternative is probably 250 million electric cars with their 100kWh batteries. My back of the envelope calculations (250 million cars, 125 million households, ~30kWh/day/household) means that's enough storage to run the entire residential load for almost a week.

        Other interesting thing about cars, is that they tend to congregate where the people are, which is often where the power use is.

      • Storage is a big part of the solution.

        A gas turbine can spin when demand is high, and slow down when it is low.

        Wind turbines don't work that way. [youtube.com] They spin when the wind blows.

        FTFY.

    • Just be patient for PV to get cheaper until you can fill a desert with it. There's still lots of room for it to get cheaper.

  • This doesn't sound like a good idea to me:

    Instead, it uses excess electricity to pump water into the underground shale rock found in new wells dug for the purpose or in abandoned oil-and-gas wells. After water fills up tiny cracks in the rock, forcing more in creates pressure, which compresses shale like a spring.

    I known nothing about this at all, but... won't the water come back contaminated with oil? Will that contaminated water get dumped into a lake or river? This doesn't sound like a good idea. Can someone explain?

    • The would be moving water back and forth between surface reservoirs and the deep well bed. No need to dump any water.

    • by b0bby ( 201198 )

      I imagine that they would have a water tank on the surface; once the well is full they start pumping in water from the tank up to whatever pressure the system can handle. Then they release the pressure, sending the water back into the tank through a turbine. In theory there would be no reason to dump the water anywhere, it would essentially act like a closed system.

    • I would be more worried about earth tremors resulting from repeatedly compressing and releasing pressure on the underlying shale formation.

      There have already been problems with earth tremors in fracking zones, and this sounds like lots of fracking cycles in the same place.

  • by CaptainDork ( 3678879 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @11:47AM (#56772056)

    ... are responsible for bad ideas like shitting in your mess kit.

    Shareholders, CEOs, and investors are, more often, manic about asymptotic profits over nanosecond time frames.

    Economies built around such shortsightedness are like train wrecks: It doesn't end well.

    • Nonsense. Requiring quarterly profit statements brings much needed accountability to organizations. If you feel you need a pass for a number of quarters, discuss it with your shareholders (eg Musk).

      The pressure for companies to deliver regular results is one of the things driving our economies (read: quality of life) so much higher. If you were smart, you'd demand the same thing of your software projects and force a regular production deployment.

      If you're just going to complain about how things are
  • I'm willing to accept a solar and battery install from Bill Gates in my house, to help his investment in energy storage, of course.

  • I'm always excited about new battery technology, but aren't molten salt batteries already providing a pretty low cost, high energy density solution? Japan has been rolling them out for their wind farms, but I haven't heard anything about using them in the US.
    • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

      but I haven't heard anything about using them in the US.

      Must not have looked very hard. Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility [wikipedia.org]

      • That facility uses molten salt thermal storage, not molten salt batteries. Molten salt batteries are actual batteries with liquid sodium or lithium as an electrolyte, they just need to be kept at high temperatures to work.
    • Molten salt batteries only store heat, and hence you can basically only use them to heat houses or, if you want to generate electricity from it, you lose 60% due to thermodynamics.

      It makes no sense to use excess ELECTRIC POWER to heat up molten salt storages, unless you have absolutely no other option.

  • Battery tech (Score:3, Informative)

    by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @11:54AM (#56772100) Homepage Journal

    Storage can achieve 70-80 percent efficiency with compressed air, which is fairly tech driven, but modern tech patents can achieve 60-80 percent themselves.

    Even pumped water up an incline, which works both with dams (and has the lowest impact for mini-hydro) and solar water distillation, is fairly efficient. If coupled with renewables, which tend to overproduce at certain periods, this allows you to achieve 120 percent renewables, allowing for variation, and export of the stored energy.

    Large trains and trucks are optimized for large-scale fuel cells, but if you want to reduce GHG emissions, you shouldn't be using methane, other than as a capture technology to remove it from escaped gasses, such as with landfills, algae, and, yes, diapers on cows (it's more of a building capture method, really).

    The major missing part, as it was with renewables before, is the lack of capitol. So Gates is spot on by leveraging capital here.

  • I'm picturing a fire at a "grid-scale" lithium-ion battery farm...
    • It might be a spectacular fire but, even if you put all the batteries in one place, it would be nothing like Chernobyl if something went wrong because they use a chemical relation, not nuclear, so once the fire burnt out there is no dangerous radiation hanging around for decades afterwards and lithium isn't particularly toxic so while there might be some contamination it should not be that hard to clear up.

      However, the more import question is why would you put all these batteries in one place though? A f
  • While I am okay with new technology, I am very sure this will instead become something of a venture that will just be used like a utility in the future.

    Lets just have everyone have solar on their roofs and a battery to store it and all connected to a grid with other supplementary forms of power generation to offset times when solar does not generate enough energy. Between a mesh electrical network, storage, solar, and supplementary power generation we should easily have a very fault tolerant, difficult to

    • I don't think my grandma can maintain solar panels on her roof. I don't think she wants to maintain batteries so that she has enough power stored up over the summer to last her the winter. Heck just in the spring she would need a large set of batteries to even out her personal usage. Maybe she could get together with a couple of neighbours and share a battery, maybe one neighbour could put up a windmill so they have an alternative. Wait, even better they could get together with even more neighbours and
  • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@@@earthlink...net> on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @12:38PM (#56772304)

    We are not going to get a carbon neutral electrical grid without nuclear power.

    Smart grids and energy storage can do a lot on making wind and solar more viable for producing reliable energy but it can't do it all. Storage also adds cost to energy sources that are already more expensive than nuclear power. I know people will claim that wind and solar will get less expensive with advancements in technology but then so can nuclear power. We've been building windmills and solar collectors for a very long time now. We used to build a lot of nuclear power plants but we effectively stopped for four decades. Now that we've started building nuclear power plants again we can expect the prices to come down.

    Storage also helps nuclear power as much as wind and solar. Any steam based energy source does not follow load well, whether that steam is produced by natural gas, coal, solar collectors, or nuclear fission. If we are going to add energy storage to the grid then nuclear power starts to look even better. We saw something like this happen in Australia when a coal fired plant failed unexpectedly and a battery pack designed for storing wind power picked up the slack and likely saved the nation from a widespread power outage.

    Wind and solar are expensive, more expensive than nuclear. Prices will come down for all of these energy sources in time. I see no reason to expect that the development of solar will allow for energy cheaper than nuclear any time soon. Wind is pretty cheap but it needs storage. Once we start adding storage to the grid then cheap energy sources we already have now start to look even cheaper, like coal, nuclear, and natural gas. If the goal is to replace coal and natural gas then the technologies that replace them will include nuclear power.

    Not using nuclear power means increased prices, brownouts and blackouts, or burning more natural gas.

    • by DogDude ( 805747 )
      You forgot to mention that wind and solar have the same chance of creating a major humanitarian and environmental disaster as nuclear power does. Oh, wait a minute...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blindseer ( 891256 )

        You are correct, I didn't point that out. Here's a few links to put the waste problems of solar and wind power into perspective.

        https://instituteforenergyrese... [institutef...search.org]
        https://www.nationalreview.com... [nationalreview.com]
        http://dailycaller.com/2017/07... [dailycaller.com]
        https://thoughtscapism.com/201... [thoughtscapism.com]

        Wind and solar have far greater waste problems than nuclear. Can we reduce the waste from wind and solar? Sure, just as we can learn to reduce the waste produced from nuclear energy. Can we improve the methods of recycling and disposing of waste pr

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by jeff4747 ( 256583 )

          Wind and solar have far greater waste problems than nuclear.

          Nuclear literally has no method for dealing with the waste stream right now. Reprocessing spent fuel is not an option because of nuclear treaty obligations....and even if we ignore that, "build a second nuclear plant" isn't exactly an inexpensive solution. Millennia-long storage is a political nightmare that is not going to happen, because politicians like not getting voted out of office.

          So, your concerns about waste stream seem a tad myopic.

          Wind does kill birds but birds are jerks

          I love when people trot this out. Household cats kill 1000 to 1

          • I love when people trot this out. Household cats kill 1000 to 10,000 times more birds than wind power generation. Yet I don't see the same people so worried about it in wind generation propose banning cats.

            House cats don't kill falcons, vultures, eagles, and other large birds. In fact its the other way around, these large birds have been known to hunt small cats. I love it when people trot out the greater threat household cats pose to birds over windmills as it demonstrates an obvious lack of comprehension of the problem. Birds have evolved to manage the threat cats hold to them but windmills are a new threat. Perhaps in time birds will evolve the means to manage the threat windmills pose to them but cons

    • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @05:26PM (#56773884)

      I think your post managed to get every single point wrong. That's an impressive achievement.

      Storage also adds cost to energy sources that are already more expensive than nuclear power

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      Natural gas, solar and wind cost about the same per kWh. Natural gas is slightly cheaper, wind and solar obviously only work part of the time.

      Then comes coal, more expensive than all three.

      Then comes nuclear, more expensive than coal.

      We've been building windmills and solar collectors for a very long time now.

      Grid-scale wind and solar are still relatively new. Most have been built in the last 10 years. That's not a "very long time now".

      Now that we've started building nuclear power plants again we can expect the prices to come down

      Sorry, we stopped again. Turns out pretending nuclear is cheap is not an optimal strategy. And now Westinghouse is going bankrupt.

      We saw something like this happen in Australia when a coal fired plant failed unexpectedly and a battery pack designed for storing wind power picked up the slack and likely saved the nation from a widespread power outage.

      Um...no. There is part of a grid in Southern Australia grid that was rather unreliable, mostly due to the limited power generation on it. The battery is designed to 1) level out the brownouts and 2) allow wind-generated power to be used more often.

      A plant in this area of Australia's grid failed, and the battery supplied power until other generators came on-line. It did not "save the nation", because the grid we're talking about serves a relatively small part of the nation. Without the battery, there would have been a brownout or blackout in that small population, but the rest of the nation wouldn't have cared - their grids would have disconnected from the shitty one as had happened many times before.

      Wind and solar are expensive, more expensive than nuclear.

      You're wrong on this. Nuclear is twice the cost of solar and wind. Citation above. There's also the non-trivial matter of the waste stream, which is not covered in the pricing in that citation.

      • You're wrong on this. Nuclear is twice the cost of solar and wind. Citation above.

        Your citation only shows nuclear being twice the cost of solar and wind when comparing the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) case numbers from a single source. EIA shows wind and solar being far more expensive as do numerous studies from other nations. There is still the matter of the cost of the storage.

        There's also the non-trivial matter of the waste stream, which is not covered in the pricing in that citation.

        Every nuclear power plant in the USA, and in most nations in the world, are required to pay in advance for the cost of decommissioning the plant at the end of its life. In the USA the gove

  • Energy storage allows the purchase of cheap, low-efficiency popcorn solar cells and whatnot to charge on sunny days. It also allows long-distance electricity with inefficient loss because who cares when the sun is doing it.

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