Financial Times: Energy Storage Still Young

The idea of so-called grid-scale storage has long been a holy grail in the worlds of technology and green energy.

Wind farms are marvellous for making clean electricity, except on still days. The same goes for a solar panel at night.

That makes them hopelessly unreliable compared with the coal power stations or gas plants that pump out so many of the carbon dioxide emissions scientists warn are heating the planet to potentially dangerous levels.

But if there was a way of storing renewably generated power so it could be used later, that might be a key to slowing climate change, with the added benefit of sharply boosting the efficiency of electricity grids.

Despite many years of effort, however, storing energy on such a large scale is still proving troublesome.

We still have relatively inefficient devices that are still prohibitively expensive compared with other forms of energy generation. This is one reason the grid-scale battery storage market is still very small.

In the meantime, some companies are looking beyond the battery to other forms of large scale energy storage, some of which have been around for a very long time.

By far the most widespread is pumped storage hydro power, which has been in use for more than a century. This involves using cheaper off-peak electricity to pump water up a hill into a reservoir and letting it gush back down through a turbine to generate power when needed later.

There is already more than 100 gigawatts of pumped hydro generating capacity worldwide, but it requires a hill and lots of space, so people have been looking at other ideas, such as compressed-air energy storage or CAES.

Others will no doubt follow in what remains a very young industry. But it still seems inevitable that today’s hurdles will end up being the equivalent of the clunky brick that featured in the early days of the mobile phone. The question is how long it is going to take until we see the energy storage version of the iPhone.

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