The Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that most utility-scale batteries are now made of lithium-ion. What does this mean for the electric grid? It largely means that energy and power capacity is only improving for battery storage options. This could have widespread implications for the future of electricity storage, meaning that more efficient models – most of which will probably use vanadium – will drive what the EIA estimates to be 2,500 MWH of storage power capacity by 2023. Vanadium, in particular, is an attractive alternative to lithium just because it has an almost endless cycle life, which is a battery’s ability to charge and discharge without becoming defunct.
Regardless of if most utility-scale batteries are made up of lithium-ion or vanadium, there are now a lot more in circulation. The EIA shows that California and Illinois are leading the pack in utility-scale storage sites. Texas is close behind.
This growth is encouraging because utility-scale sites work well with sustainable energy sources and microgrid efforts, meaning that the grid will be backed up with much more electrical reserves if needed.
Short Overview of Utility-Scale Battery Storage
Just to provide some context on the practice, large scale battery storage ventures are typically done through pumped hydropower. In other words, depending on peak hours for electricity demand, water is pumped up reservoirs and then funneled down to power a turbine when the grid needs more energy to compensate. This same sort of practice is being scaled out for more efficient and portable battery storage options.
Whereas a residential solar panel will store energy in the kilowatt range, utility-scale batteries are much larger, offering megawatts of storage potential. This is only increasing as technologies improve.
A Fully Renewable Grid with the Help of Utility-Scale Storage
There is a lot of opportunity for carrying out a fully renewable grid with the help of utility scale batteries. Solar and wind has long had a storage problem, especially during peak wind or sunshine days where a lot of energy goes to waste. As better batteries are rolled out, so too the opportunity for completely renewable grids comes closer.
Scientific American, when looking at the future of energy storage, forecast that lithium-ion batteries will be the dominant technology for the next 5-10 years. But to fully make a renewable grip operational will mean moving beyond the capabilities of lithium ion. This will most likely mean something similar to the aforementioned vanadium flow batteries or gravity storage.
But with increasing renewables, microgrids, and battery storage advancements, more storage means less blackouts and more flexible regions when it comes to spikes in electricity demand.
We will have to wait and see what exciting things continue to develop in battery storage capacity, and how that relates to the grid of the future.