Actual progress has been impressive: 85% reduction in the 2010-18 period, says the article. Graph here:  Getting another 50% in 10 years can probably be done from manufacturing scale alone. Giant battery pack factories seem to be going up all over.
This is something that ought to be almost totally automated, but doesn't yet seem to be. You're making large numbers of identical units for years per model, the best case for automation. Somebody will get that right soon.
Do we get more energy density? 2x more, and gasoline cars are toast.
Currently solar is a no brainer in my country of Australia. Typically around a 6 year payoff for a 20 year benifit.
Batteries are about break over ~10 years payback. But if you could half that it's becomes something many people will do. And once that starts happening it's a death spiral for utilities as they will have a every reducing customer base for a business with large fixed costs. As they put these expenses onto a shrinking base it only encourages more people to swap.
So for a country with a large suburban population that has the solar battery option this is going to hit utilities hard. Their market could shrink to largely providing high density areas where households dont have the roof space to generate their own power.
1. A degree of backup. Solar alone is crappy at backup power. Solar plus battery is okay as long as one’s house is wired appropriately to shed load.
2. They can reduce peak loads. This is called “peak shaving”. If the utility can rely on it, it can genuinely reduce equipment costs to the utility. As far as I know, almost no residential rates give any incentive for peak shaving. Commercial rates give an extremely strong incentive.
3. Batteries can arbitrage nonsensical rate schedules. PG&E will buy a limited but large amount of peak energy from me for over 50 cents/kWh, and it doesn’t really matter that I’m just selling them power that I bought from them for about 12 cents/kWh a few hours earlier. This is the magic of NEM2PS + EV-A (now unavailable, but NEM2PS + EV2-A is still available and is not all that different). It is, IMO, crazy.
Home batteries would need to come down considerably in cost (way more than 2x) to make them worthwhile without these crazy incentives.
There's a big difference between generating enough energy over a year to be net zero, and being able to instantaneously supply power from batteries and solar throughout the year.
Utilities fear being required to maintain electrical distribution and generating capacity and only getting revenue on cloudy days. This is a real issue in Hawaii, which has so much sun and no local fuel sources, but less of a problem elsewhere.
It's a good problem to have.
And for Canada and Russia it will probably be a net positive.
Been something I've tried researching in the past with little luck
The lithium market seems crazy and susceptible to high volatility from Chinese stockpiles. Meanwhile, battery technologies, even at the high end, are becoming rapidly commoditized and experiencing price wars, meaning new investment even into state of the art battery tech probably isn’t exposed to a lot of upside because all the consumer markets it can feed into will have consumers expecting the highest quality at bargain basement prices.
The exceptions will likely be highly industry-specific and involve complex military or enterprise consumers with special needs, and I doubt casual investors will have access to information necessary to reliably speculate about those opportunities.
Generally you want to invest in complements to things that are going to be commoditized. The drop in price and profits for the commodity drive increased profits for the consumer of the commoditized good.
The fracking revolution looks similar, for that matter. So far it has delivered a lot more value to buyers of fossil fuels than to producers.
To win, you'll probably have to have a quite wide basket or get lucky and pick the right companies.
Disclaimer: TSLA investor
Then do the productization in companies.
I don't know which part is harder regarding batteries, but I assume we have still quite a lot of basic research to do as well.
My impression was that the basic research was done in universities (with public funding) until there are some good patents, then the patents are transferred to some kind of private company that take the profits.
I don't know the procedures very well, so, I would be happy if somebody assure me that this is not the case.
Then there is Redflow out of Australia and Voltstorage in Germany.
Not sure on vanadium flow batteries
With something like the nantenergy battery they are already talking $100/kWh and have cheap materials so it would seem quite plausible to get down to say $25/kWh by 2040 meaning you could get 40kWh for $1000 or so which I think may be a better target. (https://www.engineering.com/ElectronicsDesign/ElectronicsDes...)
That seems like a meaningless metric. No one is designing a global battery system to power the entire planet. What matters is how battery systems integrate with generation systems.
"People assume the reducing emissions would stop climate change..."
Why do you assume people assume this?
42,339 MW of PV installations produced 39,401 GWh of energy in 2017 in Germany, so about 38 days of peak generation.
That means you need around 400 square meters per person at typical PV efficiencies to break even. That's already a lot. Where do you want to build 50 times that? There are 230 people per square kilometer in Germany, that's 4300 square meters per person.
Germany is an especially difficult case, being very industrial, very densely populated, and fairly polar, though less so than, say, England.
Germany uses about 72 gigawatts of electricity and about 400 gigawatts of fossil fuels, according to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Germany (but converted to SI units). It comprises some 82 million humans, so this works out to about 5 kW of fossil fuels per person. (Your "48000 kWh/year" comes out to 5.5 kW.) Generally 1 W thermal is worth about 0.4 W electric—less as transport fuel, more for industrial process heat, but generally about that. (I think this might be what you're saying about power plant inefficiencies?) We can take 0.5 W to be generous and we get 2–3 kW per person.
This would come out to 12–19 square meters of panels per person, using low-cost 160 W/square-meter panels, but those aren't average watts, but peak watts. Typical capacity factors (average÷peak) for PV installations in the US are 15–30%, so you'd normally need on the order of 60 to 120 square meters to get that much power on average, but the number Wikipedia is reporting for Germany is 10.6%. Maybe that's just a function of polar latitudes but it seems pretty extreme! Maybe something else is going on there, like production curtailment due to inadequate storage resources and demand response, or plants being offline due to equipment failure?
So I think that low capacity factor already incorporates some overprovisioning in that sense.
When I mentioned "50x", that was not because that's an overprovisioning ratio that is ever actually needed. I'm sorry that was unclear! It is far in excess of what is needed. I think 10x is pretty much the limit of what you need outside of the polar circle: instead of the 3.3 peak watts per average watt you'd need in Perú, you provision 33, and enough storage to get you through the night, and then you'll be fine even if every day has storm clouds blocking 90% of the light. In Germany that would be 400–600 square meters per person. Yes, that does mean covering 10–15% of the country in solar panels. The Germans would be well advised to put some of those panels in other, more equatorial countries, with lower population densities. Or work on demand response.
I mentioned the grossly excessive 50x number because even that ridiculous level of overprovisioning is still cheaper than a week-long battery storage system. (But not if you have to invade Egypt to install it, I suppose.) My point was that battery storage is far too expensive for anything where there is any alternative. In particular it is not a viable option to deal with seasonal variability. (Some other form of energy storage might be.)
Earth's population density is only 20% that of Germany, so getting the world's human population to be as energy-intensive as Germany without any demand response, you'd need to pave "only" 2–3% of it in solar panels. Fortunately or unfortunately, that includes the sea.
I was also surprised by that low capacity factor. Before doing the math I estimated maybe 100sqm per person. The US installation averages probably benefit a lot from the deserts and being much closer to the equator. Solar is pretty bad in Germany during winter.
I agree that we most likely don't need week long battery storage btw, but mostly because of wind energy that is also available at night and during winters. We can probably get away with just over night batteries and power-to-gas for long winters.
Wind is awesome, but I don't think the total wind resource at tower-like heights is sufficient to wean the humans off fossil fuels; but I don't have hard numbers. Maybe power-to-gas is a solution.
Thank you very much for helping me explore this!
The numbers I've seen suggest that in the case of Germany, wind power can get you most of the way to a carbon free economy, but you still need to cover 1-2% of the land with solar panels (i.e. all roofs and a bit of land). Under the assumption that we also improve energy efficiency by insulating homes, switching to heat pumps, and switching to electric cars. Without those efficiency improvements it was unlikely that we'd have enough space. Under this scheme we'd need a little battery storage (for a day of consumption or so), and power-to-gas for longer periods of low generation.
I'm not sure whether he has talks in English, but Prof. Quaschning has some nice resources in German about this topic.
That's only the case if all your generation is from photovoltaic solar. The wind doesn't stop blowing at night, and you need a long drought for hydro to stop producing power.
However, you are forgetting about atmospheric carbon capture.
Is this at the "electric cars can't do my daily commute" or "electric cars can't tow my boat 600 miles without stopping, once a year" stage?
Seems like most of the world just needs solar to last until the next day with a decent chunk of that power needed immediately after the sun sets and any wind power available could get smoothed out and/or stored for the morning by the same batteries.
Long term = weeks to seasonal
Batteries, especially that sort of cheaper battery, would be great for diurnal load leveling.
Long term storage is probably more hydrogen and mass thermal storage. The tradeoff would be capital cost per unit stored energy vs. efficiency.
Storage competes with and complements two other approaches: overinstallation of generation capacity w. curtailment, and dispatchable demand.
Curtailment involves installing more wind and PV than you need, and curtailing its output when supply > demand. A study in Minnesota found that this was cheaper than adding storage up to about 70% of the electrical power supply. Of course this creates dirt-cheap power during the curtailed periods that people can find use for (industrial thermal storage, production of hydrogen in low capital cost membraneless electrolyzers).
Dispatchable demand would involve redesign of industrial processes to operate in fits and starts. For example, today's aluminum cells do not respond well to inconstant power sources (their either freeze up or overheat and damage the lining). This was fine when the cheapest power sources were baseload sources. But perhaps an aluminum technology could be developed that would be more forgiving of variation and outages, to exploit the new situation where intermittent power is becoming the cheapest.
Of course, another approach is to move those industrial processes down close to the equator, where there is little seasonal variation in insolation. High latitude countries may become industrially disadvantaged in a renewable powered world.
I was thinking about how multiple big heating packs would stack up. Seems the Wikipedia reference has the topic well covered. Tricky but possible. And apparently (duh) not a novel idea by any means.
Though the references I could find were mostly for home-size installations or for actual heating packs. Here in Norway we're blessed with lots of mountains with lakes, so we can do pumped hydro for latent storage. But for flatter countries (say our neighbors Denmark), is grid-size PCM storage viable?
(I'm not sure that would be cheaper, it's just another possibility.)
PS: Though batteries inherently have some emergency storage capacity as daily deep discharge is inefficient.
What percentage of our
global storage needs do
you believe are "long
term" in this dichotomy?
As a Brit with solar panels, it would be super neat if I could generate power during the summer, store it for 6 months, and use it for heating during winter.
That would reduce my direct carbon emissions relative to the status quo, which is burning natural gas for heating during winter.
However, replacing my (fairly modest AFAIK) £222-per-year gas bill would need ~150 Tesla Power Wall packs, costing several times the value of the home being heated.
Replacing industrial and shipping energy with renewables is a bigger problem.
I wonder when we will get high voltage transmission systems between the northern and southern hemisphere? Actually solar farms in Southern Spain, Morocco or Arabic countries would make more sense.
Also seasonal thermal energy storage does that. Avoids solar electricity altogether, although has other limitations.
It requires zero infrastructure investments to load a hundred Tesla batteries on a truck and drive it to place with a different climate situation.
Compare that to long distance HVDC lines, which for the US are desperately needed, have been discussed for decades, and show no signs of ever getting built.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinorwig_Power_Station, but more.
But when your concern is just seasonal storage for heating, you don't need pumped storage. Just great water in a big, isolated tank, it's not even new technology. The surface per volume shrinks the bigger the system, so very large tanks can have quite nice loss numbers.
For seasonal and sporadic production shortfalls in solar and wind generation, biofuels and electrically synthesized fuels can fill in. On the occasions where carbon-neutral fuel resources are insufficient - gas generation can remain as fallback (increasingly rarely) until sufficient carbon neutral fuel production is developed.
Using numbers to quantify the situation is part of why I'm asking, asking (and answering) the right questions so we don't get silly answers is the other important part though.
Like, apoarently air con is currently 10% of all electricity and set to grow. 10 AC units will be sold every second for the next 30 years.
It seems solar plus batteries has that covered, but I'd be interested to know the ratios.
So judging by your figure of 10% of electricity usage that's 2Pwh (10% of 21-23Pwh) for air con v 10Pwh (third of 32Pwh) for space heating.
But that energy demand is mostly based on combusting fossil fuels directly, decarbonisation would require a move to electric heating which would probably involve heatpumps, and quite a lot of insulation, so I would hope that that figure would drop quite alot in the future.
 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S136403211... fig 3.
The differences can be dramatic and must be compensated some way. https://www.energy-charts.de/power.htm?source=solar-wind&yea...
But lots of people live near the equator, just like lots of people don't really ever go for long drives so rather than focus on one particularly difficult case and then giving up I was looking for some kind of rough quantification of the problem.
In analogy I'm just wondering whether the equivalent of the "daily commute" for most of the planet can be easily covered with current tech at a cost less than curent alternatives and we only need to worry about a comparitively small fraction that remains, which we could apply those savings to dealing with.
And your daily commute/boat towing "analogy" is not really helpful because those problems are not comparable. Boat towing is an optional luxury and can be worked around at a slight inconvenience by visiting charging stations. Lack of long-term storage on the other hand can't be worked around, it requires double-spending to keep dispatchable fossil fuel plants in standby.
And I don't think there is a dichotomy either. Variability exists on a continuous time-scale from seconds to seasons, so storage solutions can expand along that continuum.
And I suspect if seasonality really does become a problem that's costly to solve, heavy industry will move down toward the equator. Ship the finished products rather than try to make them where it doesn't make sense to.
Medium term solution: long-distance transmission, overprovision, and even more grid-scale storage (whole continents don't get cloudy & calm at once for long periods of time)
Potential long term solution: space-based solar (power is 24/7, just need lots of landing locations + distribution, because microwaves are attenuated by atmospheric moisture)
Edit: tl;dr is that for the issues, there are many potential solutions
Another possible long-term, space-based alternative to reduce global warming would be space-based manufacturing. It's equally as plausible - if the economics work for space-based solar, it means either space-based-manufacturing is a thing, or launch costs have dramatically lowered
The numbers are something like 20 terawatts for current human utilization and 100 petawatts for solar power.
I think solar panels will tend to have lower albedo than the surfaces they shade (sunlight they reflect is not available for energy production, and even the 16%-efficient ones that are common today are pretty black), especially before the humans start floating them on oceans. Essentially all the energy they successfully harvest will later be converted to heat on Earth. So they will represent a positive thermal forcing in the climate system. I don't know what you mean about getting counted twice?
I don't know why anyone would propose orbiting solar panels when it's still easy to put solar panels on deserts. So I assumed that was what they were imagining, even though that's not a long-term scenario; it could happen before 2089, which is very short-term.
So if we were using 5 Petawatts of ground based solar power, we wouldn't be adding much to the overall system. Unless we stored a lot of it and shifted the heat to a different time of year.
None of this is significant until solar power generates substantially more power than current world marketed energy consumption, which is to say, for at least a decade or three.
Thank you for helping me to explore these issues!
as long as it's not cloudy for a week
Wouldn't they have access to data predicting to within fairly narrow margins how often this would occur statistically?
I mean if cloudy weather reduces the output by a factor of 4 then you don't really need to bring long term storage into the matter to have trouble if you're going size everything on the basis that will only provide the required energy on the very sunniest days.
Let's say you use 1 kW on average in your house. You'll need about 4 kWp of panels to supply that with a typical capacity factor of 25%—a bit more panels than that if you're in Scotland, a bit less in Perú, but about that. At current prices that's US$800 of low-cost panels.
Now consider a couple of alternatives. You can overprovision the panels by a factor of 5 so that even on cloudy days that block 80% of the light, you can continue rocking your one-kilowatt lifestyle. This costs an extra US$3200 of panels. Or you can buy, say, a week of lithium-ion batteries; say you're paying US$150/kWh for the batteries, which is in the ballpark but not exact. You need 7*24 = 168 hours of batteries, which at one kilowatt is 168 kWh. This costs US$25000. In both cases you need some power electronics (charge controllers, inverters, etc.) but this is not a significant cost difference between the two scenarios.
So 5x overprovisioning of solar panels costs you about an eighth of a week’s worth of battery storage. You can overprovision by a factor of 50 for less than the cost of that week-long battery backup. There's a trade-off between the two—more battery storage means you can get by with less panels, and vice versa—but this strongly suggests that in most cases the optimal trade-off is not going to involve multi-day battery banks.
How about a few years in the future? This year, panel manufacturers have apparently sewn up the market in a cartel, preventing prices from falling over the last few months. But sooner or later, the cartel will break down, and panel prices will return to their long-term learning curve, say 20% per year until the raw material costs dominate. In 5 years, panel costs would then be 40% of what they are today: 8¢ per peak watt instead of 19¢. No such dramatic cost reductions are on the horizon for batteries.
But in a lot of cases, shifting demand to times with cheap energy is still going to be cheaper.
However, I wouldn't be surprised if the electrification of transportation ends up making batteries be the default "long term" storage option by using EVs as flexible grid storage. There's going to be 100x more batteries rolling around than what you'd need to stabilize the grid (e.g. peakers), so I wouldn't be surprised if the grid asks more from EVs than just stability so it doesn't have to spend the additional capital for seasonal storage.
The idea that someone with an EV will allow the power company to randomly deplete its battery is a fantasy.
Edit: We're much more likely to see home standby generators put to that use, or home batteries (connected to solar) put to that use.
So you won't ever actually have a scenario you describe where a private EV will have it's battery depleted.
Wont these be out and about during the day when the sun is shining and need to be charged during the night? Seems like these are the opposite of storage, they would exacerbate the problem? Creating a lot of demand(lots of buses in lots of cities) charging at night, and driving during the day.
"will be technically sophisticated"
This is an assumption, though it does seem technically possible.
"scenario you describe where a private EV will have it's battery depleted"
Im an environmentalist myself, but if I wake up on the morning of my vacation, and my car is at < 100%, I'm not going to be happy. You might say you could provide a way to signal that your car needs to be at 100%, but I see a non trivial amount of people enabling that all the time.
I guess if we require every parking lot with > x spaces to have plugs for all vehicles to charge/store during the day. Still requires people to actually bother plugging them in. Of course, they would also have to plug them in during the night, and unless they are getting paid to, I dont see people going through the minor hassle if it is no benefit to them. I'm just not really optimistic about the vehicles as storage idea, sadly.
Sorry for the pessimism, but I feel like there is too much naive hand waving among environmentalists. I think we need a more realistic, critical discussion, focused on likely, probable solutions. Theres too much: "Everybody can just go out of their way too do x." Theres still people who think putting an aluminum can in a different bin is too much work. We have to work with these unfortunate realities, not just dismiss them.
That will never happen, unless you intentionally jump through several hoops to shoot yourself in the foot.
For example, there's a company called OhmConnect that does aggregated demand response. You can sign up for it, optionally connect your smart thermostat/plugs, and bank account. When there's going to be a high load period, OhmConnect notifies you asking if you want to participate in an upcoming "Ohm Hour". If you do, they will pay you $5-10 for your trouble. So, if you had a vacation the next day, of course you wouldn't opt-in to the demand response event.
Disclosure: I am on a nonprofit board with OhmConnect.
E.g. storing hydrogen or compressed air in a salt dome decouples the power rating of your storage (MW) from the storage capacity (MWh). Similarly hydroelectric dams contain water by volume but you only need to dam a cross-section of the valley.
I would caution that the cost of a dam does not increase linearly, either (and that most resources that are profitably dammable at utility scale have already been dammed)
The artice talks about a 122 fold increase in the amount the power of installed battery power, I assume that a 2^122 increase is impossible, even accounting for replacement of end of life power packs.
I use the suffix myself; it's nice and short when you need to express the concept.