Industrial Scale Battery Storage of Wind & Solar Would Cause Surge in CO2 Emissions

Californian carpet-bagger, Elon Musk has been threatening South Australia with a plan to scoop up at least $150 million of the $550 million its hapless Labor government is about to squander on non-fixes for its self-inflicted wind power disaster.

So no time like the present to reflect on just how ‘green’ is SA’s plan to squander mega-$millions on Musk’s mega-battery.

For the record, there is no grid-scale battery storage system operating anywhere in the world; and when we say ‘grid-scale’ we mean capable of storing hundreds of MWhs, rather than the 20-100 MWh being touted by Tesla.

Also for the record, batteries do not generate power they simply store it; the power put into them has to come from some generation source at a cost, they take time to charge and discharge as fast as their operators permit. Moreover, as every mobile phone owner knows, batteries have a limited lifespan measured in ‘cycles’: the number of times that a battery can be charged and its energy discharged before it ceases to hold any meaningful charge.

For a State that can’t make a decision on setting up a facility to store nuclear waste, it will be interesting to see how its bumbling Labor government handles hundreds of tons of toxic, heavy-metal filled batteries at the end of their economic life, assumed to be little more than 7 years.

In the media that followed Jay Weatherill’s ‘power plan’ announcement it was hard to pin down precisely what was being offered, but most reports suggested that the battery in question would have a capacity of 100 MWh. Assuming that be the case, then the battery would last all of four minutes if being used to satisfy the bottom end of South Australia’s daily demand of 1,500 MW.

The maths is pretty simple. If the volume of power being delivered by generation sources over one hour is 1,500 MW, then a battery aiming to deliver 100 MW over that same hour represents 1/15 of the power being delivered by generators during that hour: 100/1,500 x 60 minutes = 4 minutes. Four minutes is barely enough time for South Australians to find their matches and secure their candles.

Another reference point are those occasions when wind power output suddenly collapses, tripping the interconnectors with Victoria which supply SA with reliable, base-load coal-fired power from Victoria, resulting in the loss of around 500 MW in an instant (see our post here).

A 100 MWh battery would last 12 minutes, if being used to plug that 500 MW gap: 100/500 x 60 minutes = 12 minutes. 12 minutes would be just enough time to fire up an OCGT from a hot start.

Anyone claiming that battery storage is an economic means of providing electricity at any meaningful scale is deluding themselves, as South Australia’s political leaders most certainly are. There is a reason that there is no grid-scale battery storage operating anywhere in the world. At enormous cost, South Australians are about to learn precisely why that is the case.

And for those fretting about CO2 emitted due to human activity leading to the imminent incineration of the Globe it is probably reasonable to ponder whether realising the myth of grid-scale battery storage might bring any joy for global warming worrywarts. Here’s Andrew Follett.

Study: Batteries For Wind And Solar Do ‘More Harm Than Good’ For Environment
Climate Change Dispatch
Andrew Follett
2 February 2017

Trying to store green energy in a battery does more harm to the environment than good, according to a new study by the University of Texas Energy Institute.

Storing solar energy in batteries for nighttime use actually increases both energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the study found. Researchers concluded that homes which used battery storage ended up consuming between 8 percent and 14 percent more electricity than homes that didn’t.

“The researchers also found that adding storage indirectly increases overall emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide based on today’s Texas grid mix, which is primarily made up of fossil fuels,” reads a summary of the research. “Because storage affects what time of day a household draws electricity from the grid, it also influences emissions in that way.”

Burning natural gas for electricity will generally result in lower pollution and fewer CO2 emissions than trying to store green energy in batteries — largely because batteries waste a lot of power charging themselves.

Storing enough electricity in batteries to support wind and solar power also face enormous physical problems, which could make it economically impossible, according to another study published in June by chemists at Texas A&M.

It turns out that when electrons combine with the lithium ions in a battery, they distort the electronic structure of the device, essentially trapping unused energy in the battery, causing it to degrade rapidly. This means that it may be inherently impossible to store large amounts of electricity cost effectively in a battery.

“Fundamentally, when you have a battery, every time you use it, it starts to die a little bit,” Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee, a chemistry professor at Texas A&M, wrote in a press statement. “The more you use it, the more it dies. Eventually, it becomes unusable. Theoretically speaking, you expect a certain performance from a battery, and you rarely ever get there. People have been at a loss to understand all the factors that contribute to this lack of full capacity.”

Without large-scale energy storage, the power grid needs demand for energy to exactly match supply to function properly. Power demand is relatively predictable, and conventional power plants, like nuclear plants and plants using natural gas, can adjust output accordingly. Solar and wind power, however, can’t easily adjust output and provide power unpredictably relative to conventional power sources.
Climate Change Dispatch

What, wind power ‘unpredictable’? No….

About stopthesethings

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


  1. Robin Pittwood says:

    Actually Rinaldo is right. MWh is energy and MW is power. The Joule is the basic unit of energy. One Joule consumed per second is one Watt, the basic unit of power. Using 3,600 seconds in one hour, and using 1MW = 1,000,000W we can derive that 1MWh=3.6*10^9 Joules, a big unit of energy.

    • Energy is stored in coal, energy is stored in gas, energy is stored in uranium. Each has potential, but you will not get power until the energy potential is released.

  2. Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  3. Jackie Rovensky says:

    The toxic waste from batteries is something we hear about day in day out – don’t throw them into your rubbish bin because they will end up in landfill. Save spent batteries and then place them in a specially provided bin at some store or other.
    Yet, we have the SA Government wanting to add to this toxic mountain of dead batteries.
    If they were useful it may be forgiven for them to be installed in large numbers to ‘store’ electricity for when it is needed – but – isn’t it needed all the time?
    SA doesn’t at anytime produce sufficient electricity on a regular basis to enable us not to have to have supplies from Victoria as it is, so what are they going to be storing, as it goes in it will be going out at the same rate.
    Weatherill and co are saying we will be going independent of the Grid and will not need a backup from Victoria.
    But as we have seen over the past weeks there are times when the Grid is receiving very little from the Wind and at times nothing, so what will keep these batteries topped up, if electricity being produced at the proposed new Government Gas plant here in SA isn’t enough to service Sate needs?
    All those batteries will need to be dumped at the end of their very short useful life, with maybe some of the materials re-used, but will the dismembering of the batteries and the making suitable for re-use not need electricity and will this salvaging required special treatments so toxins don’t enter the environment?
    It looks like another effort of the SA Government to try and get the foot out of their mouths, but finding all they are doing is pushing it in deeper and deeper.

  4. Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    UPDATE on – Open-cut, heavy metal *mining* for toxic battery materials to provide an hours worth of energy to a small town when the wind stops blowing OR blows too fast…

    Oh so green. 🙈

  5. lithium has the shelf life of a political cycle says:

    Thanks STT for giving us our daily charge!

  6. Robin Pittwood says:

    A typo I presume:
    “Assuming that be the case, then the battery would last all of four minutes if being used to satisfy the bottom end of South Australia’s daily demand of 1,500 MWh”
    I think the word ‘daily’ should be removed from this sentence and ‘MWh’ replaced with ‘MW’.

    • Yes, fixed, thanks.

      • Rinaldo says:

        MWh is energy. MW is power.

      • We disagree.

        Energy, in physics, is the capacity for doing work. It may exist in potential, kinetic, thermal, electrical, chemical, nuclear, or other various forms. There are, moreover, heat and work—i.e., energy used in the process of transfer from one body to another.

        In physics, power is the rate of doing work. It is the amount of energy consumed per unit time. Having no direction, it is a scalar quantity. In the SI system, the unit of power is the joule per second (J/s), known as the watt in honour of James Watt, the eighteenth-century developer of the steam engine.

        A MW is the measure of the unit of power delivered or used at a point in time. A MW/h is that unit being delivered at that rate of the period of 1 hour.

        Energy is merely a potential to create power. Pundits use the term wind energy (ie the potential of wind to turn a wind turbine) which is useless until converted to power.

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