Insane $Trillion Cost Means Mega-Batteries Won’t Save Chaotically Delivered Wind & Solar

It didn’t take power punters long to work out that wind power will never amount to a meaningful power generation source.

Graphs like the one above – depicting the entire output of every wind turbine connected to Australia’s Eastern Grid (1,800 of them with a capacity of just under 5,000MW, spread across four states, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia) – quickly gave the game away.

Challenged with the inherent unreliability and obvious intermittency of wind power, those pushing it have been reduced to chanting mantras about mega-batteries saving the day.

The way they tell it, it’s as if they simply left grid-scale battery storage off their shopping lists – like some muddle-headed shopper returning home without milk and bread – and all they needed to do was pop back to the shops to collect some.

A bargain struck by economic vandals: $150,000,000 for 4 minute’s power.

 

The world’s largest battery cuts a lonely figure in a paddock near Jamestown in South Australia’s mid North; it doesn’t generate power; it stores a piddling 100 MW worth; it consumes power during each charge/discharge cycle, lost as heat energy; it cost taxpayers $150 million; and would satisfy SA’s minimum power demand for all of four minutes. On those hard numbers, anyone talking about batteries providing an economic solution to Australia’s energy crisis, is either delusional or hoping to sell them.

Those fantasists claiming that we’re a heartbeat away from running entirely on sunshine and breezes, need to keep up the line about giant batteries being the simple solution to a glaring problem.

Except, that they will never put a number on what their purportedly quick and simple fix might cost. And that’s because the number is in the many $trillions, as detailed by James Temple below.

The $2.5 trillion reason we can’t rely on batteries to clean up the grid
Technology Review
James Temple
27 July 2018

A pair of 500-foot smokestacks rise from a natural-gas power plant on the harbor of Moss Landing, California, casting an industrial pall over the pretty seaside town.

If state regulators sign off, however, it could be the site of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery project by late 2020, helping to balance fluctuating wind and solar energy on the California grid.

The 300-megawatt facility is one of four giant lithium-ion storage projects that Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility, asked the California Public Utilities Commission to approve in late June. Collectively, they would add enough storage capacity to the grid to supply about 2,700 homes for a month (or to store about .0009 percent of the electricity the state uses each year).

The California projects are among a growing number of efforts around the world, including Tesla’s 100-megawatt battery array in South Australia, to build ever larger lithium-ion storage systems as prices decline and renewable generation increases. They’re fueling growing optimism that these giant batteries will allow wind and solar power to displace a growing share of fossil-fuel plants.

But there’s a problem with this rosy scenario. These batteries are far too expensive and don’t last nearly long enough, limiting the role they can play on the grid, experts say. If we plan to rely on them for massive amounts of storage as more renewables come online—rather than turning to a broader mix of low-carbon sources like nuclear and natural gas with carbon capture technology—we could be headed down a dangerously unaffordable path.

Small doses
Today’s battery storage technology works best in a limited role, as a substitute for “peaking” power plants, according to a 2016 analysis by researchers at MIT and Argonne National Lab. These are smaller facilities, frequently fueled by natural gas today, that can afford to operate infrequently, firing up quickly when prices and demand are high.

Lithium-ion batteries could compete economically with these natural-gas peakers within the next five years, says Marco Ferrara, a cofounder of Form Energy, an MIT spinout developing grid storage batteries.

“The gas peaker business is pretty close to ending, and lithium-ion is a great replacement,” he says.

This peaker role is precisely the one that most of the new and forthcoming lithium-ion battery projects are designed to fill. Indeed, the California storage projects could eventually replace three natural-gas facilities in the region, two of which are peaker plants.

But much beyond this role, batteries run into real problems. The authors of the 2016 study found steeply diminishing returns when a lot of battery storage is added to the grid. They concluded that coupling battery storage with renewable plants is a “weak substitute” for large, flexible coal or natural-gas combined-cycle plants, the type that can be tapped at any time, run continuously, and vary output levels to meet shifting demand throughout the day.

Not only is lithium-ion technology too expensive for this role, but limited battery life means it’s not well suited to filling gaps during the days, weeks, and even months when wind and solar generation flags.

This problem is particularly acute in California, where both wind and solar fall off precipitously during the fall and winter months. Here’s what the seasonal pattern looks like:

If renewables provided 80 percent of California electricity – half wind, half solar – generation would fall precipitously beginning in the late summer.

This leads to a critical problem: when renewables reach high levels on the grid, you need far, far more wind and solar plants to crank out enough excess power during peak times to keep the grid operating through those long seasonal dips, says Jesse Jenkins, a coauthor of the study and an energy systems researcher. That, in turn, requires banks upon banks of batteries that can store it all away until it’s needed.

And that ends up being astronomically expensive.

California dreaming
There are issues California can’t afford to ignore for long. The state is already on track to get 50 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2020, and the legislature is once again considering a bill that would require it to reach 100 percent by 2045. To complicate things, regulators voted in January to close the state’s last nuclear plant, a carbon-free source that provides 24 percent of PG&E’s energy. That will leave California heavily reliant on renewable sources to meet its goals.

The Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based energy policy think tank, recently found that reaching the 80 percent mark for renewables in California would mean massive amounts of surplus generation during the summer months, requiring 9.6 million megawatt-hours of energy storage. Achieving 100 percent would require 36.3 million.

The state currently has 150,000 megawatt-hours of energy storage in total. (That’s mainly pumped hydroelectric storage, with a small share of batteries.)

If renewables supplied 80 percent of California electricity, more than eight million megawatt-hours of surplus energy would be generated during summer peaks.

Building the level of renewable generation and storage necessary to reach the state’s goals would drive up costs exponentially, from $49 per megawatt-hour of generation at 50 percent to $1,612 at 100 percent.

And that’s assuming lithium-ion batteries will cost roughly a third what they do now.

California’s power system costs rise exponentially if renewables generate the bulk of electricity.

“The system becomes completely dominated by the cost of storage,” says Steve Brick, a senior advisor for the Clean Air Task Force. “You build this enormous storage machine that you fill up by midyear and then just dissipate it. It’s a massive capital investment that gets utilized very little.”

These forces would dramatically increase electricity costs for consumers.

“You have to pause and ask yourself: ‘Is there any way the public would stand for that?’” Brick says.

Similarly, a study earlier this year in Energy & Environmental Science found that meeting 80 percent of US electricity demand with wind and solar would require either a nationwide high-speed transmission system, which can balance renewable generation over hundreds of miles, or 12 hours of electricity storage for the whole system (see “Relying on renewables alone significantly inflates the cost of overhauling energy”).

At current prices, a battery storage system of that size would cost more than $2.5 trillion.

A scary price tag
Of course, cheaper and better grid storage is possible, and researchers and startups are exploring various possibilities. Form Energy, which recently secured funding from Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, is trying to develop aqueous sulfur flow batteries with far longer duration, at a fifth the cost where lithium-ion batteries are likely to land.

Ferrara’s modeling has found that such a battery could make it possible for renewables to provide 90 percent of electricity needs for most grids, for just marginally higher costs than today’s.

But it’s dangerous to bank on those kinds of battery breakthroughs—and even if Form Energy or some other company does pull it off, costs would still rise exponentially beyond the 90 percent threshold, Ferrara says.

“The risk,” Jenkins says, “is we drive up the cost of deep decarbonization in the power sector to the point where the public decides it’s simply unaffordable to continue toward zero carbon.”
Technology Review

Anyone still banging on about CO2 emissions in the electricity generation sector, ought to be banging on about nothing other than nuclear power.

Nuclear power is the only, stand-alone generation source that can deliver reliable, affordable power without generating CO2 gas, in the process.

The fact that politicians in this Country talk about anything but nuclear power as a solution to Australia’s unfolding energy crisis, speaks volumes.

If CO2 gas really is the existential threat it’s made out to be, then nuclear power is the only solution: ‘Saving’ the Planet from CO2 Gas Means Cheap & Reliable Nuclear Power or Nothing

In 2018, with debacles like wind ‘powered’ Germany, South Australia and Victoria on show, for all the World to see, anyone still talking about windmills, pumped hydro, mega-batteries and CO2 emissions can’t be taken seriously. And not only their motives, but also their sanity, has to be taken as suspect.

Instead of babbling about mythical batteries (said to be bigger then Elon Musk’s ego), the anti-carbon dioxide gas crusaders have one and only solution to their woes. It’s called nuclear power.

And yet, in 2013, California shut-down its 2,254 MW San Onofre nuclear plant at Pendleton.

In 2025, it plans to kill off its last remaining nuclear plant: the 2,256 MW Diablo Canyon Power Plant near San Luis Obispo. That single plant produces about 18 TWh of power per year: 40% more output than all of the wind turbines in California.

Ever wondered why Californians pay America’s highest power prices? Ever wondered why Californians are being told to shut down their air conditioners during heatwaves?

Well, now you know. Welcome to your wind powered future!

Nuclear: stand alone power – batteries not included …

About stopthesethings

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

Comments

  1. An excellent post. Thanks. One or two pleas:
    Please could we avoid using that dreadful metric “ Number of homes supplied “. It just plays into the hands of the GreenBlob and is designed specifically to confuse.
    Also when dealing with Windturbines they should be described by statistical output, being 25% of designed output. Best cut them down to their true size.
    Again: Storage should be denoted by GWHRs with the output capacity in MWs and the time in hours to depletion.
    The required storage in GWHRs for a wind farm to ensure constant supply should be given as a contingency statistical estimate of the statistical out put.
    The sum of the capital and running costs of BOTH the turbines and the storage facilities should then be boiled down to a figure of X pence/cents per KWHr on a domestic meter in the absence of subsidies.

    • We suggest you direct your complaint to James Temple. STT agrees with your approach, but can’t do much about people like James. We thought his revelation about costs of storage worth reproducing.

  2. Peter Pronczak says:

    If you believe battery storage is a solution then you believe (Al) Gore & (David) Blood aren’t making money out of carbon trading, it’s there to save the planet from naughty mankind. Right?
    Like the hybrid cars, the batteries are to be recycled how?

    Throw another subsidy on the spin doctor’s barbie

  3. Batteries are never going to be a significant part of the energy mix in Australia because they don’t attract a subsidy. Watch this space.

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