Bulk Electric Storage Not a Requirement For Widespread Use of Renewables


(3BLMedia/Justmeans) - Physicist Amory Lovins has been at the leading edge of energy alternatives since well before most people ever heard of climate change. Far from an idealist, he is a hard-nosed scientist who has done the math to show what is possible if we are willing to think outside the box. His two latest books, Winning the Oil Endgame, and Reinventing Fire, lay out in detail the ways that our society can wean itself off of oil, coal and nuclear through a smart deployment of renewables, efficiency, with a bit of natural gas thrown in as a bridge fuel, all while growing the economy by double digits.

Lovins, along with his crew at the Rocky Mountain Institute put together a prototype 100 mpg Hypercar back in 2007, introducing groundbreaking technologies that car companies have been racing to catch up with ever since.

Now as the world has begun heeding his advice, Lovins has rolled up his sleeves to identify the various conceptual, physical, economic, political, and technological roadblocks that threaten progress and is busy dispelling them wherever he can. The latest is the idea that due to the intermittent nature of various energy sources, we can’t reliably implement renewables on a large scale without massive investments in energy storage.

Here again, Lovins has done the math, with a series of simulations. While it’s true that many renewables are intermittent, new smart grid technologies are quite responsive. Lovins presents the solution in terms of choreography, his word for a dynamic matching of electricity supply with demand. The fact is that sunshine and wind do come and go, but they do so in a fairly predictable manner. About as predictable, says Lovins, as the demand is. He also points out that since no power generation source is completely reliable, that grid has already been designed to accommodate that.

In Texas, for example, wind and solar can potentially produce 86% of the annual electric load. The rest, he says, can be made up from “dispatchable renewables.” This would include other types of renewable sources that are available whenever needed, such as geothermal, small hydro, solar thermal electric, and feedlot biogas. He mentions two kinds of distributed storage that could be used, in conjunction with flexible demand management, to accomplish this: ice storage air conditioning, and electric vehicles (V2G). He then goes on to cite several European countries including, Germany, Scotland, Denmark, and Portugal who are delivering anywhere from 25-58% of their electricity using renewables without bulk storage.

The bottom line, says Lovins, “bulk electricity storage and fossil fuel backup and are the costliest ways to make the grid flexible, so we would use them last, not first. A breakthrough in cheap bulk storage of electricity would be helpful but not vital.”

Indeed, a number of large scale innovative storage projects are moving forward, especially in California, where the state public utilities commission announced procurement targets for storage last year, in hopes of achieving 1.325 gigawatts of energy storage capacity by 2020. Just this week at the annual gathering of Energy Storage North America (ESNA), nine finalists were announced for the Innovation Award for excellence in installed energy storage projects. Awards will ultimately be given in three categories: utility scale, customer site, and mobility. Criteria used for selection of finalists included: customer value proposition, project impact, services supplied to the grid, financing model, ownership model, technology, and safety.

The availability of these types of storage facilities in each of these application spaces will definitely help to reduce stress on the grid and ease integration of renewables into the supply mix.

Image credit: Chicbee04: Flickr Creative Commons