The Wind Industry’s Myth of Storing Mass Volumes of Power Busted (Again)


Desperation is a stinky cologne: and the wind industry is drenched in it.

Having been rumbled over the fact that wind power depends on … wait for it … the WIND, the wind industry, its parasites and spruikers have resorted to wild claims about building giant batteries – that could soak up their product at times when the wind is blowing and there’s no market for it (ie night-time) and allow them to deliver it later, on demand. Trouble is, physics and economics have other ideas.

Is large-scale energy storage dead?
Energy Matters
Roger Andrews
8 April 2016

Many countries have committed to filling large percentages of their future electricity demand with intermittent renewable energy, and to do so they will need long-term energy storage in the terawatt-hours range.

But the modules they are now installing store only megawatt-hours of energy. Why are they doing this? This post concludes that they are either conveniently ignoring the long-term energy storage problem or are unaware of its magnitude and the near-impossibility of solving it.

The graphic below compares some recent Energy Matters estimates of the storage capacity needed to convert intermittent wind and solar generation into usable dispatchable generation over different lengths of time in different places.

The details of the scenarios aren’t important; the key point is the enormous differences between the red bars, which show estimated future storage requirements, and the blue bars, which show existing global storage capacity (data from Wikipedia).

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the amount of energy storage capacity needed to support a 100% renewable world exceeds installed energy storage capacity by a factor of many thousands. Another way of looking at it is that installed world battery + CAES + flywheel + thermal + other storage capacity amounts to only about 12 GWh, enough to fill global electricity demand for all of fifteen seconds.

Total global storage capacity with pumped hydro added works out to about 500 only GWh, enough to fill global electricity demand for all of ten minutes.

Storage 1

Yet microscopic additions to installed capacity are apparently considered a cause for rejoicing. Greentechmedia recently waxed lyrical about the progress made by energy storage projects in 2015.

“Last year will likely be remembered as the year that energy storage got serious …. projects of all sizes were installed in record numbers ….” But when it goes on to list “the Biggest Energy Storage Projects Built Around the World in the Last Year” we find they’re all 98-pound weaklings:

Storage 2

Also notice that while megawatts are specified MWh usually aren’t. There are two possible explanations for this. First the facilities aren’t designed to store energy. They are primarily for frequency control, load following etc. The MW are important but the h aren’t, or at least not very. Second, the policymakers who mandate these facilities don’t see any difference between a MW and a MWh.

And I say “mandate” because that is what the state of California recently did. California recognized that it would have to solve some grid stability problems before it could expect to meet its 50% renewable energy by 2030 target, so in 2013 it passed a “Huge Grid Energy Storage Mandate” that required the state’s big three investor-owned utilities to add 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage to their grids by 2020. Three points are worthy of note here:

  • Relative to California’s 50GW peak load 1.3GW can hardly be described as “huge”.
  • The mandate again doesn’t say how long the storage should last, i.e. how many gigawatt-hours are needed.
  • The proposal specifically excludes pumped hydro storage projects of 50 megawatts or more.

And the rationale for excluding pumped storage projects over 50 MW deserves a paragraph all to itself:

The California Public Utility Commission concluded that although large-scale pumped storage hydro meets the statute’s definition of an energy storage system, it must limit the size of eligible pumped storage systems in order to encourage the development and deployment of a broad range of energy storage technologies. In the CPUC’s view, the goal of creating a new market for a range of storage technologies would be undermined if the IOUs could meet their targets by acquiring a pumped storage facility: The majority of pumped storage projects are 500 MW and over, which means a single project could be used to reach each target within a utility territory.

What is this broad range of storage technologies that pumped hydro threatens to undermine? Based on proposals received to date they include bi-directional EV charging stations, molten sulfur batteries, zinc hybrid cathode batteries, lithium-ion batteries, thermal energy stored in ice, in used EV batteries and in rechargeable electrolytes. In short, California will consider any type of energy storage system provided it isn’t pumped hydro, the only large-scale energy storage technology that can be guaranteed to work.

Which brings up the question of which of the technologies don’t work. In the recent ARES post Greg Kaan made the following comment:

This thread is turning into complete nonsense, not due to the commentators here (thanks Greg) but simply through the “solutions” being presented to try and cope with intermittent power production.

And Greg is quite correct. The solutions being presented to cope with intermittent power production range from green dreaming to downright bonkers. Here’s a selection, courtesy of Wikipedia:

  • Compressed air
  • Liquid air
  • Batteries
  • Electric vehicles
  • Flywheels
  • Underground hydrogen storage
  • Power to gas
  • Hydro and pumped hydro
  • Superconducting magnets
  • Thermal storage.

To which I will add:

ARES rail storage, which we recently looked at.

The 500m-diameter underground granite cylinder that moves up and down without ever cracking, leaking or getting stuck

Flat Land Energy Storage, which was reviewed here.

Anyone who can see a way of commercializing any of the unproven technologies on the list is encouraged to provide details. (Although two of them are in fact capable of providing meaningful amounts of storage. The first is power-to-gas, which was dismissed here as being far too complicated, inefficient and uneconomic. The second is very-large-scale pumped hydro, which was discussed here. The project delivered 6.8TW of storage but involved turning a large chunk of the Scottish Highlands into an inland sea.

So here we have an impossible situation, with green pipe-dreamers and utilities whom one suspects should know better trying to solve an unsolvable problem with technologies that have no chance of solving it. So what happens next? Well, at some point something obviously has to give, but what, where and when is the question.
Energy Matters

giant battery 2

OK, it looks BIG, but what’s it cost & how long does it last?

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.


  1. Jackie Rovensky says:

    The problem with all these methods of storage is that those who wax lyrical about them have not considered what happens when what they have managed to store – above what was needed – runs out with not enough being produced to replenish the storage ‘tanks’.
    Then of course they have from the word go contended the wind is always blowing somewhere so there will always be enough for everyone’s needs.
    Ah Yes, do we see yet another of their lies blowing back in their faces.
    How they must hate how predictably the wind can turn in an instant to expose their litany lies.

  2. grumpyoldman22 says:

    You mean there are some experts out there in the Dreamtime who really think adding pumped storage that could use wind power, to an existing hydropower installation would be efficient or effective? Build a new pumped storage hydro station in close proximity to the grid. Just in case there are none already handy.
    Wonder what they would do with the spare hydropower the windpower displaces? Possibly run enormous fans to drive the wind turbines. Thus near-perpetual motion has been established and the world can go back to sleep.

    • Roger Andrews/Energy Matters weren’t so much giving wind/pumped hydro any kind of endorsement, save to point out that the California Public Utility Commission is ignoring the one system that works, albeit at ludicrous cost when fed with wind power (rather than off-peak coal or gas-steam, say), and instead forcing investment in schemes that will never fly at any level.

      Here’s another analysis from Energy Matters.

  3. Indeed the article injects a dose of reality that busts the renewables cheer squad’s pet myth, “if only we had limitless energy storage capacity we could turn our sow’s ear into a silk purse”. Nothing could be further from the truth of course, at best all that could be achieved, even if limitless amounts of “free” energy storage were available would be for high priced non-dispatchable intermittent wind energy to be converted to high priced dispatchable wind energy. Furthermore, even if the lowest cost form of energy storage, pumped hydro, is factored into the equation (and remember pumped storage is no-no to the renewables crowd anyway) the cost of the stored wind energy becomes stratospheric.
    The energy storage simply fulfils the balancing role that open cycle gas turbines perform now but the wind/storage combination does it at a much higher cost and without any ability to add any nett energy over and above the pitiful, capacity factor challenged, output of the wind turbines.
    It’s true to say that stored wind energy could be used for load following duty but that would make little sense as hydro and gas turbine generators can perform that role admirably at a fraction of the cost without any need for energy storage.

  4. Reblogged this on windfarmaction and commented:
    Politicians wet dreams! Practical application/consumption in MWhr for the UK is some 335 trillion per annum. Now how big a battery would you meed to store that?

    • Nigel Molesworth, Jr says:

      As any fool knows, UK electricity consumption is around 300 million MWh per year. What’s the need to store even one whole year’s consumption, let alone 1,000,000 years’ worth?

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