Technical innovation is expanding the usefulness of batteries, and bringing down their price. They are being used in a multitude of ways, from the tiny batteries in mobile phones to large batteries linked into electricity grids to help smooth out spikes in supply and demand.
In Northern Ireland AES has just commissioned a bank of 53,000 batteries to store surplus electricity, to provide up to 10MW at times of peak demand. Similar systems are being deployed elsewhere in the world, and they will prove increasingly useful in a grid dominated by renewable forms of energy.
The biggest battery related story to be extensively covered by the world’s media has been Tesla’s $5 billion gigafactory, producing Lithium-ion batteries, first for Tesla’s battery-electric cars, then their Powerwall for homes. The Lithium-ion battery has many advantages over the old Lead-acid batteries. Electric car sales are increasing, following on behind is the adoption of home energy storage.
The photovoltaic revolution continues. Panel prices continue to fall and technical performance slowly improves. As batteries improve and home energy storage increases individual households can start to act in new ways, generating solar electricity in the daytime, storing it for later use, or to sell back to the grid when prices are high. This decentralized generation and storage will change the way power grids operate.
My favourite example of this is an Australian company called Redflow who have developed a Zinc-bromide flow battery that seems to have many advantages over the Lithium-ion battery. Combine these new Redflow batteries with rooftop solar panels and a new software power management system just developed by Australia’s Reposit Power and you have what could well be a real game changer. Each household can now utilize its solar power to maximum benefit, to use the energy 24 hours a day and optimize when it sells surplus energy back to the grid to help meet peak power demand, so stabilizing the grid and maximizing profits for the individual householder. This combination of linked technologies is not yet in mass use, but the first pioneering households seem to be demonstrating that it does work and could decrease the need for large centralized power stations and for expensive grid infrastructure.
There is a 29 minute documentary that looks at this combination of solar panels, Redflow’s Zinc-bromide batteries and Reposit Power’s smart management system. http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4398364.htm
The Northern Ireland battery http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2440978/uks-largest-battery-energy-storage-array-comes-online