Inside the rivalry to invent the utility-scale battery storage of tomorrow

To overcome the intermittence of renewable energy and make it competitive to power grids, power needs to be stored to be used when needed. Green Mountain Power’s project demonstrates that utility-scale battery storage can be technologically and economically feasible. Unlike other utilities that use natural gas powered generators to meet peak demand periods, Green Mountain stores its solar energy using batteries. According to the U.S. Energy Department, there are around 200 such utility-scale experimental projects, some supplying backup power, others helping companies that wish to go green have uninterruptible power supply. Despite their advantages, lithium-ion batteries are still overpriced to store energy for longer periods, so the search for lower-cost technologies goes on.

That’s the goal of many high-profile research centers – to come up with more powerful, but at the same time less expensive batteries not just for utilities, but also for consumer appliances.

Microsoft Corp. is also exploring this niche by joining forces with the researchers from the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at the University of Texas-San Antonio to decide in what way utility-scale battery technology might help it better manage the power needs of its worldwide centers.

An alternative to lithium-ion batteries are flow batteries. This batteries are ideal for long-term storage as they can easily be scaled up or down and have long working life. Their biggest disadvantage is their cost – way too expensive.

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