Solar and wind companies must embrace energy storage solutions

November 18 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2016   Rating: 3

What happened?
Minnesota Public Radio has featured a story of Xcel Energy’s efforts to build out the state’s first utility-sized electricity storage facility based on batteries that can store enough electricity to supply 500 homes for seven hours. This push to integrate energy storage systems with wind and solar farms could emerge as a major growth area over the next twenty years.

Why is this important to the future of energy
Today‚Äôs energy industry is dominated by two ideas: producing energy and consuming energy. As a result most leaders and consumers focus only on trying to find new ways to produce energy (‘build more plants’) or highlighting ways of being more efficient in energy consumption. But we overlook one of the most disruptive ideas in the future – energy storage.

Energy storage can help lower the cost of producing energy for utilities, accelerate adoption of renewables and electric vehicles, and bring power to billions of people who do not have reliable access to grid-based energy.

Understanding Intermittent Power Sources
Solar and wind are known as intermittent power sources since they only produce power when the wind is blowing or when the sun is shining. They are clean, but not reliable. Outside of production costs, this is the primary reason why utilities avoid making major investments to expand their renewable portfolio. They are not ‘anti’ renewable, they are ‘pro’ reliability.

Until solar and wind can overcome this problem of intermittency with energy storage systems, major utility companies will not be able to significantly expand their renewable portfolios.

Why utilities avoid solar and wind power

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Report: US Electricity grid needs $1.5 - 2 Trillion investments by 2030 (7 Ideas to Watch)

November 11 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 2

What happened?
An Edison Foundation funded report conducted by The Brattle Group has some sobering news that could radically change the tone of infrastructure investment in the incoming Obama Administration, and lead to a boom in energy startups able to deliver lower cost, innovative solutions.

The new report “Transforming America’s Power Industry: The Investment Challenge 2010-2030” [Full Report / Exec Summary] estimates that the U.S. utility industry will have to invest between $1.5 and $2.0 trillion between 2010 and 2030 to maintain current levels of reliable energy service for customers throughout the country.

“This study highlights the investment challenges confronting the power industry in the coming decades,” according to Brattle Group Principal Peter Fox-Penner. “The industry is facing enormous investment needs during a period of modest growth, high costs, and very substantial policy shifts.”

Why is this important to the future of energy?
This investment figure challenges some deeply held assumptions and visions of the future promoted by people on all sides of the political spectrum. Free market advocates will have to confront role of government spending on infrastructure. Unless we completely abandon the centralized power plant to home model that exists today, most of these investments will come from states and the federal government.

But the more emotional conversation deals with the dreams of new sources from solar, wind and ocean power. This report confirms the brutal reality- Renewables alone, cannot scale to meet demand through 2030. While Al Gore’s We Campaign is trying to make a convincing case that we can go ‘all green’ in a decade, the numbers do not add up without a radical social-industrial engineering project with no budget limits.

The most likely near term future through 2030?
All sources of energy used in electric power generation will grow.

What to watch for
These types of reports often grab headlines, but are quickly forgotten by the public. Yet there is evidence to suggest that America is preparing to make significant investments in our energy infrastructure and change its regulatory framework to enable the Utility industry to transform its business and operating models. [Until those regulatory changes are made, the utilities will remain locked in their current business models, and will be unable to introduce innovative and cost saving efforts.]

Here are Seven Ideas to Watch:

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A123 seeks funding for Michigan battery plant, but should the US 'leapfrog' into fuel cells & capacitors?

January 08 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2013   Rating: 2

A123The US continues to play catch up to Asia in manufacturing advanced energy storage solutions used in electric vehicles and 'smart grids'.  But a more organized US energy storage industry is starting to emerge.

Last month a group of battery makers formed a coalition to seek federal support.  A week later a group of fuel cell makers petitioned Congress for its share of cleantech funding.

Now lithium-ion battery start up A123 Systems has submitted an application to qualify for $1.84 billion in direct loans to support the construction of new world-class battery plant in Michigan.  At full operation, A123 expects the combined plants would occupy as much as 7 million square feet and create over 14,000 jobs to supply battery systems for five million hybrid vehicles or half a million plug-in electric vehicles per year by 2013.

Should the US leapfrog batteries into fuel cells and capacitors? (Continue)

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Breakthrough in high surface area MOFs that absorb hydrogen and carbon, Tell Barack Obama

January 08 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

MOFsOmarYaghi

What if Barack Obama said in his first State of the Union address: 'America must invest in high surface area materials...' ?

Most people would be puzzled.  Some minds would probably close down after hearing something slightly intimidating and 'scientific'. 

Why surface area?  Why not say 'invest in better batteries, cleaning up fossil fuels, solar and hydrogen'? 

Energy is about Interactions
Surface area enables better interactions between light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, metals, and bio enzymes. (At least, that's the short answer.)

The real road to a 'New Energy Economy' is paved at the nanoscale of material science. 

What types of applications can we expect?

1) High surface area materials - Trap Molecules & Light
Imagine being able to 'trap' harmful molecules that are byproducts of coal or oil.
Or solar cells that hold photons longer to produce more energy!

2) Solid state storage of energy - High Density Packets
Imagine billions of people buying high density 'packets' of energy at retail stores. We 'refill' instead of 'plugging into' wall sockets.  Or electric vehicles that can be refilled by swapping out 'bricks' of energy in the form of solid Hydrogen.

The Evolution of MOFs
Chemical Engineering & News is reporting on progress in a very promising class of high surface area materials that can absorb hydrogen and carbon: Metal Organic Frameworks or MOFs.

MOFs are highly ordered interconnected 'lego' like structures that have open pores that can selectively absorb molecules. It is a 'sponge' with the highest surface area of all known materials- estimated at several football fields per gram.

The problem? Clogged pores.

Now, a team led by UCLA's Professor Omar M. Yaghi, who synthesized MOFs in mid 1990s at Michigan, has developed a technique using supercritical fluids that essentially clean out the material leading to a vast network of open holes.

What to do next?  Somebody tell Barack Obama to make Molecular Surface Area a National Priority

Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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Carbon based hydrogen storage might be on the horizon

October 09 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 1

Hydrogen fuel cells, which produce electricity, are an evolution to modern day batteries. If we can store hydrogen efficiently as a solid, we can expand the use of energy from intermittent solar and wind power. We can also lower the costs and improve performance of electric vehicles. Two recent research announcements hint that cost effective storage could be much closer to reality.

Nanoscale science & surface area
One of the key enablers of storing hydrogen as a solid is high surface area. How much? Can you imagine holding a gram of material with surface area equal to several football fields for storing hydrogen molecules?

Nanoscale (billionth of a meter) material design means high surface area ratio to volume. We can also tap nanotechnology to create storage materials able to bind and release hydrogen molecules at low pressure and low temperature.

Carbon scaffolding for storage
There are a number of ways to store hydrogen as a solid, and also as a liquid. Earlier we featured a look at metal-organic frameworks or MOFs as a viable long term storage material. Today we’ll look at two other carbon-based hydrogen storage systems.

Carbon is a controversial storage medium since it is ‘sticky’ and can often bind hydrogen too tightly. But mixing (or ‘doping’) carbon with other elements can leverage the benefits of carbon’s high surface area and its Lego-like structural design.

‘Doping corn cobs?’
The Department of Energy has awarded $1.9 million to researchers at the University of Missouri and Midwest Research Institute (MRI)

The Missouri team has found that carbon briquettes (derived from corn cobs) then “doped” (or mixed and layered) with boron, have a unique ability to store natural gas with high capacity at low pressure.

While corn cobs hydrogen storage sounds a bit far fetched, one gram of this carbon material has a surface area comparable to a football field. The boron additive to carbon creates binding energies with H2 molecules that might make this a viable storage medium.

Carbon Graphene Layers
Another carbon based solution was announced last week from researchers in Greece using stacked thin sheets of carbon doped with lithium.

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Energy Storage will be a 'Next Big Thing' for Cleantech Investors, Auto Industry and 'Big Grid'

December 08 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2016   Rating: 1

storage

What do CEO's from the Auto and Utility Industries (or 'Big Grid'), Enterpreneurs involved in Solar/Wind production and gadget loving consumers all have in common?  

They need major breakthroughs in energy storage. 

Forget about incremental improvements. We cannot get excited over 'better' batteries.  It's time for a leap in cost and performance.

These industries need fundamental breakthroughs with batteries, hydrogen and capacitors. 

What's going to be the source of innovation?

Nanoscale materials science that transforms low-cost abundant materials into viable platforms for storing electrons and hydrogen.    And Disruptive Business Models that scale technologies, create new growth opportunities, and overcome the resistance of deeply rooted incumbents who see energy storage as a threat to their way of business.

What to watch: Energy Storage solutions for Electric Cars & Utility companies

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Ground breaking 'Dry water' method developed to store natural gas in a powder

December 08 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2020   Rating: 1

methaneHave you ever held natural gas in your hand?

“It ('dry water') looks like a powder, but if you wipe it on your skin, it smears and feels cold” says Andrew Cooper University of Liverpool, UK 

What happened?
Chemists at the University of Liverpool have developed a reliable way of converting methane gas into a powder form in order to make it more transportable.

The researchers use a white powder material made of a mixture of silica and water to soak up large quantities of methane molecules.

Liverpool researchers believe that instead of shipping methane as a 'gas' or 'liquid' (LNG) we can transport it as a powder.  It is also possible to use solid natural gas storage being used for electric vehicles that use fuel cells that convert natural gas (on board) into electricity.

Easier method to make store methane in a powder

It does not make sense to store all natural gas as a solid, but the market opportunities are sdry waterignificant.  The challenge of methane gas hydrate has been that it is formed at a very slow rate when methane reacts with water under pressure.  "To counteract these difficulties we used a method to break water up into tiny droplets to increase the surface area in contact with the gas. We did this by mixing water with a special form of silica – a similar material to sand – which stops the water droplets from coalescing.

This 'dry water' powder soaks up large quantities of methane quite rapidly at around water's normal freezing point."The team also found that 'dry water' could be more economical than other potential products because it is made from cheap raw materials.

Why is this important to the future?
Storing gas as a solid?

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Boston Power raises $55 million to expand production of Li-ion batteries

January 15 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2012   Rating: 1

Boston Power logo

Advanced energy storage and portable power solutions continue to grab attention from energy investors.

Massachusetts-based startup up Boston Power has announced a $55 milllion Series D funding round to scale manufacturing, sales, marketing for its Sonata Lithium-ion batteries.  This infusion of cash follows an announcement in December that Boston Power would supply HP with batteries for a coming line of laptops.

Boston Power's solutions are most relevant to supporting the continued growth of high performance portable electronics.  But the company expects to be involved in first generation electric vehicles powered by batteries. Its branding effort has been to promote itself as a 'cleantech' company with high standards for its sustainability practices and partnerships with Asian manufacturers.

The Evolution of Energy Storage - Batteries, Fuel cells & Capacitors

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Lux Research Report: Thin Film Batteries Could Grow to $250 million by 2014

March 10 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Gadgets   Year: General   Rating: 1

luxNext generation energy storage solutions (e.g. batteries, fuel cells, capacitors) continue to gain attention from investors and energy forecasters who see significant growth ahead beyond typical production side investments.

A new report from Lux Research, titled Thin Batteries: Novel Storage Powering Novel Devices,  believes that this low cost battery platform could have 'enough juice to grow from a $19 million market in 2008 to a market of over $250 million in 2014.'

The report updates Lux Research's analyses of eight thin battery manufacturers and draws on nine additional interviews with application developers downstream to assemble a comprehensive perspective on thin battery technologies, companies, and markets.

Thin batteries appear to be following a classic 'low end disruption' growth strategy of avoiding direct head to head competition with current 'coin cell' batteries in favor of growing around new applications.  Lux describes potential growth across a range of sectors including healthcare (e.g. drug delivery patches), media (e.g. video displays), and information systems (e.g. RFIDs/Sensors) 

Lux expects opportunities for investors able to find opportunities in later stage funding rounds but stress the inevitability of shake out in emerging markets. "By 2014, there simply won't be enough space in this market for ten thin battery companies to sustain a healthy business," said Jacob Grose, an Analyst at Lux Research and the report's lead author "Anyone interested in getting a seat at the table will need to identify the winners, and identify them early."

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