This article, supported by curiosity stream, 1er sobering thought it’s literally like two weeks away from 2020, and we are still getting most of our energy from burning things. Just like we did back in caveman days like that was a very first source of energy.
We ever had burning things and somehow now all these millennia later we still can’t seem to move beyond that that still where we get most of our energy, even though we now know it’s, pumping horrible amounts of pollutants up Into the atmosphere that’s threatening our way of life, this is why you’re hearing.
So much talk about transitioning to things like wind and solar renewables to clean up our energy grid. There’s. Only one problem, renewables kind of suck look. I’m, a fan of renewables that’s. Why I talk about them all the time on this channel, I want to see them grow.
We need to see them grow, but still every time you bring that up. Some of the anti green people, they always say things like this wind and solar are fine, but I mean like what are you gon na do at night? What happens when the wind doesn’t blow and the thing that pisses me off when people say that is, are kind of right, renewable energy, especially wind and solar? They do have that one major problem of intermittency that’s, actually the advantage of burning things.
You know you have total control over how much energy you create, need more energy, just burn more things. So if we really do truly want to transition to renewable energy, we have to find massive industrial scale, energy storage solutions.
Luckily, we found some ways of doing exactly that, some of which are pretty cool. So let’s just start by talking about energy. Like what is energy, what is this thing that we’re needing to store in the first place? According to Wikipedia energy is defined as a quantitative quality that must be applied to an object in order to do work on the object or to add heat to the object.
This usually takes the form of mechanical chemical, nuclear or electrical energy, and according to the law of conservation of energy, it can neither be created nor destroyed only transformed, so solar energy gets locked away in photosynthetic plants, which, over millions of years, becomes coal that chemical, energy And coal is released when burning it, turning it into kinetic energy that turns a turbine that turns generator that creates electrical energy, that’s, distributed to your home, where you plug in your phone, and it gets turned back into chemical energy in your phone’s batteries later this energy is used by your phone to do computations generate light and escape as heat all electricity, production and storage is basically just finding new and clever ways to transform energy from one type into another type.
That’s. Basically, what we’re talking about here, so let’s. Just say you’re, a utility company and your job is to provide electricity to the community around you. The first thing you need to figure out is: what is your base? Load power need base load.
Energy is basically the minimum amount necessary to meet a consumer demand in a particular area like what is the absolute minimum necessary to meet consumer demand, say 80 % of the time like you, don’t want to over produce power, because then you’re just wasting all that energy which, as an energy company you paid for in one way or another, so it’s, all about kind of finding the minimum amount to produce that will maximize your profits.
Capitalism. This fine-tuning this specific amount of energy that you want your plant to be producing at all times. It requires a very easily adjustable energy source and right now, anyway, fossil fuels are the simplest answer, need more heat, just add more coal.
It’s. The perfect solution, with the minor downside of eventually destroying the planet, the term destroying the planet, is just a joke. We’re, not going to destroy the planet. We just might not be able to live in it.
The way we used to so everybody just now, of course, sometimes the energy level spikes up above the base load power and that’s where peaker plants come in peaker plants kick in to handle any kind of power spike that goes over the base Load power, so they’re intermittent, they only last a few hours and they only kick in when necessary.
They’re around a thousand peaker plants in the US, and traditionally they’ve been powered by natural gas, but this is actually where renewable energy has made some big strides in the last couple decades that same intermittency.
That makes your Nobles more difficult and challenging as base load power options actually gives them an advantage in peaker plant use, but you still have the problem with the duck curve. The duck curve refers to the offset timing between peak consumer demand and peak power production.
Take solar energy, for example. It peaks in the middle of the day say noon to 3, o’clock as the sun’s most directly overhead, but energy consumption peaks in the evening as people come home from work and turn on lights, TVs, a/c and cook dinner.
Just as the sun’s going down, and when you graph this out, it looks a bit like a duck. Hence the duck curve. The duck curve is a deceptively cute sounding name for what is essentially the Achilles heel of renewable energy.
Luckily, that energy that gets produced in the middle of the day can be transformed into a different type of energy that we can store in an industrial energy storage solution and then dole that out later on.
When it’s needed – and here are some of the best ways of doing that – all right – the first one to talk about is Pumped hydro power. We all know what hydro power is you take a natural source of flowing water and damn it setting up a dam creates a buildup of dam water that builds up some dam pressure, and then you open up the dam spillway.
The dam water, then turns the dam turbines and creates a lot of dam. Energy humans are basically beavers with more teeth, and this is great if you’re near a river which luckily many cities are, but if not pumped hydro power is a good solution.
Pumped hydro power works basically the same way as a hydroelectric dam. The differences with pumped you have two different reservoirs, one at a higher relevation one at a lower elevation and a pipeline connecting the two when excess energy is produced.
Like say in the middle of the day, with solar energy, that energy is applied to pump that water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. This stores, a mass of that water, is potential energy and then, when extra energy is needed, the floodgates open.
The water flows from the upper reservoir to the lower reservoir turns a turbine and voila energy. Now I don’t know about you, but I think this is really cool and when I found out about this just fairly recently, I was like wow that’s.
That’s awesome. I hope that we can do that in the future. Someday yeah not only is this in use, but it accounts for 96 % of all the energy storage around the world, so there I go being on top of things again.
In fact, the largest pumped hydro facility in the world is the Bath County pump storage station. In Virginia it’s, been in operation since 1985 and is sometimes called the world’s biggest battery. Currently, there are 69 pumped hydro stations around the world with more than one gigawatt hour of capacity and 37 are scheduled to be built by 2025, 31 of which are in China.
You know people love to dump on China and say that it doesn’t matter. What the rest of the world does in terms of renewable energy because they’re polluting. So much and the thing is yes, they do have a pollution problem, but they are currently investing more in clean energy than anybody else in the world.
But yeah pumped hydro power is awesome. It is the undisputed king of renewable energy storage, but the one downside is that you do have to have just a particular terrain in order to do that, which is why it’s, not really a shock that the biggest one in the world is In a mountainous area, it’s, also a huge construction project that takes a lot of money upfront, but once it’s in place, it can operate for decades and it operates it around a 75 to 80 percent efficiency.
Next up is hydrogen energy storage. In my article on hydrogen fuel cell cars, I showed how the whole process works, with hydrogen being taken out of water through electrolysis stored in high-pressure storage facilities and then turned through fuel cell in a car back into electricity that powers the car hydrogen energy storage is Basically, the same process except scaled up in order to power homes and businesses and whole cities.
Now I listed the issues with hydrogen storage in the last article, namely that the overall process is not very efficient, but the one good thing that hydrogen does have going for it is its scalability compressed.
Hydrogen can be stored and pressurized vessels and those vessels can be scaled up or down to fit whatever need. You might have like a car home, a business, a city block a whole city, you can keep going and it can also be stored in solid metal, hydrides or nanotubes to compress even more energy in an even smaller space.
But the really mind-blowing bit is that compressed hydrogen can be stored in underground caverns and depleted aquifers and abandoned mines. Basically, you take an old mine that’s, been depleted of whatever minerals you were getting out of it and just use that to pump compress hydrogen into it.
Now this is not only handy, but it stores immense amount of energy. It’s been calculated that a 500,000 cubic meter space could hold over a hundred gigawatt hours of energy. To put those numbers into perspective, the chevron philips clemens terminal here in texas has over 30 million cubic meters of storage, so the upside is these underground potential.
Hydrogen storage places exist all over the country. The downside is the efficiency isn’t the greatest. So that leads us to compressed air energy storage sort of on the same line as the hydrogen storage is compressed.
Air energy storage, also known as CA EES like I was just talking about with hydrogen compressed air energy storage, works in the same way. It just takes ambient air and compresses it under pressure in underground mines that pressurized air is then later heated and expanded, and it goes through a turbine and generates power.
Salt caverns are usually the preferred locations for several reasons. For one thing you got flexibility, they have no pressure losses and the salt doesn’t interact chemically with the air. Now current CA es plants use what’s called the diabetic method, which basically means that the compressed air part of it is separate from the turbine part of it that thing what this means is.
Basically, you have an electric generator pumping air into the storage facility, preferably run by solar, wind energy, but then, when it’s time to get that energy back out, the compressed air is fed into the turbine and burned with gas.
Just like a jet engine now this does mean that you have to use natural gas, but you get three times the energy output out of it for every unit spent, which means you get a 60 % reduction in co2 emissions and there is an improvement on this Technology that’s, known as isothermal CA es basically, instead of using turbo machinery in the plant, it uses in situ compression and expansion inside the storage.
Now, if this sounds like it’s way over my head, that’s because it is but somehow I kind of uses the surface area of the cavern itself to manage the compression or they can inject a mist of air to cause.
The expansion of the air inside and use that to turn things sounds like magic, but apparently it can operate the plant at between 70 to 80 percent efficiency and lower the cost of production bottom line.
The Earth’s. Crust is very Swiss cheesy and we can fill those holes with gas to make more energy and somehow sound it in appropriate. Next up is thermal energy storage, and this is energy stored using thermal temperature differences, either going hot or cold.
One example is solar thermal plants that reflect the sun’s, energy onto molten, salts or other materials. This holds that energy. Until it’s needed where it & # 39, s used to generate steam, which drives a turbine to produce electricity or facilities and office.
Buildings can create ice during off-peak hours and then when they need to cool off the building. They can just use that ice to do that now. A couple of options in this field are pumped Heat, electrical storage and liquid air energy storage.
In pumped Heat electrical storage, electricity drives a storage engine is connected to two large thermal containers. A heat pump moves heat from the cold container to the hop container kind of like a refrigerator, but massively scaled up.
This heat pump can then be reversed to become a heat engine. This turns a turbine and the electrons doth flow liquid air, energy storage or laes kind of goes, the other direction using energy to cool air until it liquefies.
This is why it’s also sometimes called cryogenic energy storage. This cryogenic frozen or is then stored and when energy is needed, its reheated that expands turns turbines creates energy. There you go there’s, a lot of different ways of doing this and their efficiencies range between 50 % and 90 %.
Now, obviously, if you want to talk about energy storage, you got to talk about batteries. I mean this is kind of what they do. Utility-Scale battery storage has become increasingly popular since the cost of lithium-ion batteries has gone down.
They’ve, actually gone down. 76 percent, since 2012, Tesla with their Giga factory, obviously plays a big part of this, but there’s. Other companies like LG, Chem and BYD, and China that are all producing gigafactory sized production facilities for lithium-ion batteries.
Most of these are meant for v’s because Vivi’s are kind of the big hotness right now, but they’re. Also producing you know: battery packs for homes and businesses and utility scale systems Tesla famously installed.
A 100 gigawatt hour powerpack system in Australia, at the horns, Dale power reserve near Adelaide and it & # 39. S been projected to make back a third of its costs on the first year of operation alone, and it’s.
More lithium-ion mega plants start going online. We’re gon na see the cost even accelerate. Further downwards. I mean if we’ve, seen a drop 76 % in the last seven years. I mean just wait until we get these big huge mega plants going in the next.
Several utility-scale battery facilities are going to explode in the next several years, and plus utility scale actually gives you a second life solution for evey batteries. Now a lot of people have browsed about battery life in evey, saying that the batteries are gon na be useless in five to eight years now.
This has been completely disproven many times over, but that is true that eventually the operation of these batteries, the charge is going to go down to where it’s not really optimal for cars anymore.
This might be between 10 and 20 years, but even if the batteries lasted forever, doesn’t mean the car around. It is gon na last forever. Either way these battery packs can be repurposed for grid storage and once there they can be useful for another 20 or 30 years, and that’s.
Another reason why grids is gon na go way down in cost, because these battery packs are gon na. Just start piling up it’s, not like toilet paper that we’re. Just gon na go through these things last decades and they’re going to accumulate and the battery systems are already starting to reach cost parity with gas peaker plants.
In fact, this year, PG & amp E in California are replacing three different gas peaker plants with battery storage solutions that are going to be holding around 2.2 gigawatt hours of capacity. Now there are other battery options like old school lead, acid batteries, nickel based batteries, sodium gas batteries, but right now lithium-ion is the big bad.
It has about 80 percent of storage capacity in the United States. Now another interesting option is Flo batteries. I kind of want to do a whole episode on redox flow batteries because they’re, really cool, but it’s.
Basically, you have a liquid anode and a liquid cathode, basically a container of positively charged liquid and a container of negatively charged liquid, and they flow together into a fuel cell and create electricity.
That way, if, when I charge the battery, it just works in Reverse, the electricity in the fuel cell feeds ions into the do separate solutions and that charges them now. What’s? Really cool about this over say lithium-ion battery packs is, if you want a bigger lithium ion pack, you have to produce thousands of those little cells and you got to produce the wiring and the cooling systems that go all around it and everything that’S what you got to do to make a little pack bigger to make a redox flow battery pack bigger – all you got to do is just add more solution, literally just give it a bigger tank, and if you want more power out of the battery, you just Add more fuel cells, so it’s, really customizable and efficient.
They run it around 95 % efficiency. Now, in case, you’re wondering what’s in those solutions. It’s based around vanadium, which is not the most scarce metal in the world, but it’s, not the most abundant either.
A lot of people are working on more organic solutions for that right now, right now, China is working on an 800 megawatt hour flow battery plant, which would actually double the worldwide capacity for flow battery storage.
But I think this is gon na be a really interesting space to watch. I think this is gon na grow really quickly. We need to keep an eye on this one. This next one is just awesome because it’s, just it’s, just spinning things.
This is flywheel energy storage, which is basically a machine that holds kinetic energy using rotational momentum. In other words, spinning things. Winds say: solar energy production is high. They use that energy to spin the flywheels, which maintains a consistent energy through inertia.
They’re, essentially charging the battery by physically spending hundreds of flywheels, the faster they spin, the more energy they hold. And then, when that energy is needed, it’s kind of like regenerative braking on an Eevee.
They just use that rotational energy to create electricity, and it can kick in in a matter of seconds. They’re low maintenance. They & # 39, ve, got long lifespans and they have minimal environmental impact and they work at pretty high efficiencies around a upper 80 %.
The only downside is are not very energy dense and the more energy you need to store the bigger you need to build and right now flywheel. Energy only accounts for about 600 megawatts of energy in the United States and last but not least, is the gravity battery which I don’t believe is actually in use yet, but it’s under development, and this works on the same Principle as the Pumped hydro storage solution, which, basically you take a wait and when energy is high, you use that energy to lift the weight up to a higher elevation and then, when the energy is needed, you lower the weight back down only instead of water.
It’s, just it’s just weight. Basically, you build a deep shaft in the ground and then dangle a wave at the top attached to a motor, and a generator weight goes up when it’s. Sunny weight comes down when it’s not, and it uses that motion to turn a generator and makes electronics.
The UK company Gravatt tricity developed a system that suspends weights of 500 tons to 5,000 tonnes in a deep shaft by several cables. They clean that it has a 50 year design life with no cycle limit or degradation that it can go from zero to full power in less than a second and it’s, efficiencies between 80 and 90 percent.
All this is super impressive. If it’s, true, they’re, currently working on a 250 kilowatt hour scaled prototype and they’re in talks with several different countries, including the UK, Poland, Finland, the Czech Republic in South Africa, about putting systems up there And just basically using old, abandoned mines that already exist to do it anyway.
These are some of the options on the table but, as I said before, the future of renewable energy relies on being able to create these kind of storage systems. According to the International Energy Association, we’re, going to need 266 gigawatt hours of storage by 2030.
This is in order to keep global warming below the 2 degrees tipping point, but right now we’re only halfway there and our rising urban populations means we’re gon na have even more increased need for energy storage box life.
Smil is a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and one of the world’s. Foremost. Experts on energy Bill Gates is one of his biggest fans stating that I wait for new smell books.
The way some people wait from the next Star Wars movie and he’s, not exactly optimistic about things. Smil writes in a 2017 spectrum article that since 2007, more than half of humanity has lived in urban areas by 2050, more than 6.
3 billion people will live in cities, accounting for two-thirds of the global population. This is going to require a massive supply of electricity to power, their homes and their transportation and their businesses.
Smil says we need a breakthrough, a low-cost breakthrough in energy storage and that we are moving way too slowly in that direction. He told science magazine giveme, Maskell storage and I don’t worry at all with my wind and photovoltaic, so I can take care of everything, but we’re.
Nowhere close to it right now: 30 % of energy production around the world is made by renewables and storage lags way behind that. Obviously, there’s, a lot of hope in the battery space, with the lowering cost of lithium-ion batteries, but some of these other solutions definitely deserve a shot and it’ll, be fun to see them start to come online in the next Few years, and if it does maybe just maybe we can move past burning things now to find out more about how we’re gon na meet our future energy needs.
I can highly recommend this series dream the future on curiosity stream. This series is hosted by Sigourney Weaver and it looks at the future from multiple interesting angles, one specifically being the energy of the future episode where they go deep on the energy usage projected for 2050 and beyond, and how we’re gon na meet Those needs, and while you’re, there check out the thousands of top quality, documentaries and series from acclaimed filmmakers, covering everything from history to the future, to science breakthroughs in the human condition seriously.
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