Green Energy Doesn’t Work Without Energy Storage That Doesn’t Exist Yet

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Scientists from the University of East Anglia found wind and solar power can’t compete with conventional electricity without economical energy storage systems that don’t exist.

The research published Friday concludes without economical energy storage systems, wind and solar power simply aren’t that useful due to their unreliability and intermittent nature. The study argues the money used to financially support wind and solar power should be spent supporting research into bringing down the costs of energy storage.

“We need sufficient storage and more investment in storage systems in order for renewable energy to reach its full potential,” said Dr. Konstantinos Chalvatzis, co-author of the paper, in an press statement emailed to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Subsidies would encourage investment, which in turn would enable further integration of renewables into the energy sector.”

The researchers found as the amount of green energy entering national power grids increases, the negative impacts of wind and solar’s volatility will also increase unless better batteries are developed.

The research highlights the fact that it is currently impossible to economically store power for times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Purchasing enough batteries to provide just three days of storage for an average American household costs about $15,000, and those batteries only last for about five years and are very difficult to recycle.

This is true for home power storage as well, even with the latest batteries which were invented to make rooftop solar panels and wind turbines economically viable for consumers. A Tesla powerwall capable of powering a home costs $7,340 to buy. A conservative analysis estimates a powerwall can save its owner a maximum of $1.06 a day. An Elon Musk Tesla Powerwall battery would take almost 40 years, or roughly four times its warranty period, to pay for itself, according to analysis performed by the Institute for Energy Research. Tesla only offers five to 10 year warranties on its Powerwalls, and predicts they will last for only 15 years.

One of the world’s largest and most powerful batteries, located in Fairbanks, Alaska, weighs 1,300-metric tons and is larger than a football field. It can only provide enough electricity for about 12,000 residents, or 38 percent of Fairbanks’ population, for seven minutes. That’s useful for short outages, which happen a lot in Alaska, but isn’t effective enough to act as a reserve for solar and wind.

The best way humans have of “storing” power is pumping water up a hill, which actually accounts for 99 percent of all global energy storage.

Without energy storage, in order for the power grid to function demand for energy must exactly match supply. Power demand is relatively predictable and conventional power plans, like nuclear plants and natural gas, can adjust output accordingly. Solar and wind power, however, cannot easily adjust output. They also provide power unpredictably relative to conventional power sources.

On an especially cloudy or windless day, the electrical grid can’t supply enough power from solar or wind alone. Wind and solar also run the risk of producing too much power which can overload and fry the power grid. This is why electrical companies will occasionally pay consumers to take electricity. Germany paid wind farms $548 million to switch off last year to avoid grid damage.

The research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Energy.

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