Batteries No Cure for Chaotic Delivery of Wind & Solar: Mega-Cost Kills Mythical Mega-Battery Storage

Despite the hype from RE zealots, the completely chaotic and very occasional delivery of wind and solar won’t be cured with giant batteries.

Sure, at a technical level, it is possible to store large volumes of electricity for a period, such that it might be released when power consumers need it.

However, were such a thing ever attempted, the cost of the electricity generated, stored and later released would be astronomical and beyond the reach of all but billionaires and rock stars.

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.

Here’s Roger Andrews running the ruler over the real and staggering cost of attempting to run on sunshine and breezes.

The Holy Grail of Battery Storage
Energy Matters
Roger Andrews
18 August 2018

A recent Telegraph article claims that storage battery technology is now advancing so fast that “we may never again need to build 20th Century power plants in this country, let alone a nuclear white elephant such as Hinkley Point” and that the “Holy Grail of energy policy” that will make this solution economically feasible – a storage battery cost of $100/kWh – will be reached in “relatively short order”.

This brief post shines the cold light of reality on these claims by calculating battery storage costs based on the storage requirements for specific cases estimated in previous Energy Matters posts.

It is found that installing enough battery storage to convert intermittent wind/solar generation into long-term baseload generation increases total capital costs generally by factors of three or more for wind and by factors of ten or more for solar, even at $100/kWh. Clearly the Holy Grail of energy policy is still a long way off.

First a simple calculation. $100/kWh = $100,000/MWh = $100 million/GWh = $100 billion/TWh. If everyone is happy with this we can proceed. (Note that all the costs listed in this post are in US dollars unless otherwise specified).

In the Is large-scale energy storage dead? post I presented this graph:

The procedures used to estimate these storage requirements are described in these posts:

Multiplying the storage capacities shown in the Figure by $100 billion/TWh gives the following battery installation costs. Wind and solar installed costs (both estimated at $2,000/kW) are from IRENA:

Battery storage needed to convert Germany’s 2013 solar generation to baseload: $800 billion, about 13 times the $66 billion cost of installing the ~33GW of solar capacity involved.

Battery storage needed to convert solar generation equal to a year of Hinkley nuclear generation to baseload: $700 billion, about 28 times the ~$25 billion cost of the Hinkley plant.

Battery storage needed to convert solar + wind generation equal to a year of Hinkley nuclear generation to baseload: $350 billion, about 14 times the cost of the Hinkley nuclear plant.

Battery storage required to convert one month of UK wind generation to baseload: up to $500 billion, over twice the $200 billion cost of the ~100GW of wind capacity involved. (Note 1: storage requirements for a complete year would likely be significantly higher. Note 2: the lower-storage options discussed in the “estimating storage requirements” post are achieved by increasing wind capacity and curtailing large amounts of wind power.)

I added a small project– Gorona Del Viento – to round the estimates off. During its first year of operation GdV generated only about half the wind energy needed to fill El Hierro annual demand, but had it generated 100% of it then 10GWh of storage would have been required to store the wind surpluses for re-use in windless periods. The cost of installing this much battery storage is $1 billion, approximately ten times the €82 million euro project capital cost.

And how good are my storage estimates? Well, the late Sir David Mackay, at the time DECC’s Chief Scientific Adviser, confirmed some of them in a comment on the “estimating storage requirements” thread:

Your calculations agree with my back-of-envelope estimates. In SEWTHA Ch 26 I said “imagine we had 33 GW of wind capacity, delivering on average 10 GW”; I reckoned that ballpark of 1000 GWh of storage would be needed ….

Mackay’s estimate gives a ballpark battery cost of $100 billion, not quite twice the $66 billion cost of installing his 33MW of wind power but again well in excess of it.

Clearly large-scale battery storage will remain uneconomic even at the Holy Grail price of $100/kWh. So why do battery companies, research institutes and greens claim the opposite? Because they assume that the intermittency problem can be solved simply by installing enough storage to balance daily load fluctuations.

A large amount of storage isn’t necessary to do this, and $100/kWh batteries might indeed be able to supply it without breaking the bank. But they ignore the much larger amounts of storage that are needed to keep the electricity coming during extended windless periods and/or to flatten out seasonal variations in solar output. Why?

I see two possible explanations.

First, they are being carried along in a wave of visionary enthusiasm and haven’t recognized it as a problem; second, they know about it but don’t want to tell anyone because it might spell the death of large-scale storage battery research, and ultimately maybe the death of intermittent renewables too. I’ll let the readership make up their minds as to which it is.
Energy Matters

Musk’s bogus ‘bargain’: $150,000,000 to power SA for 4 minutes.

About stopthesethings

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


  1. Reblogged this on UPPER SONACHAN WIND FARM and commented:
    Should be widely shared as an excellent explanation of ‘reasons why not…’

  2. Jackie Rovensky says:

    We need to keep spelling out that it’s only recently the ‘renewable’ zealots have started to accept backup is needed for their ‘love’ interests – wind and solar. Even though they have constantly waffled that it was not needed. As a result they are now falling over themselves to hug big batteries.
    They don’t look at the cost, they don’t consider if these are useful they only have stars in their eyes and cotton wool instead of a brain.
    These people are unable to accept they have been wrong and until they do we will have to be ready to counter their fluffy ideology with facts that cannot be ignored and we also need to keep on at those who make the decisions to keep their decisions rational.
    This includes ensuring politicians and the UN accept they are there to make rational decisions and not to demand from countries/citizens unattainable things which will damage their lifestyles and economies – laughable yes, but we do need to keep trying.
    STT is far advanced in ways of doing this and they are doing a fantastic job.

  3. The electricity generation firms want to borrow the battery in that electric car you probably can’t afford to buy and/or don’t want anyway.

  4. Willam Walbank says:

    1. Can you please teach your reporters and editors to use correct units – kW power, kWh capacity.
    2. It is useful to consider the quality of the electricity generated. Good quality is uninterrupted supply at the correct voltage and frequency. This can never be guaranteed by wind or solar. Batteries are useful for solar to cover the rapid changes when clouds pass by but will not be economical for night time supplies. Wind output will typically be below 5% of capacity for periods of more than 50 hrs several time a year on most sites – way beyond the capacity of affordable batteries.

    • We reproduce articles of others over whom we have no control, and don’t edit their work. STT will comment on glaring errors. We would be pleased if you can point to any specific errors in Roger Andrew’s piece, because it appears he has correctly distinguished capacity and output.

      • Willam Walbank says:

        Agreed – one of the minority of press/PR articles that was specific over power and capacity.
        Given the right topography combined Flow plus Pumped storage is the only practical way of providing low maintenance systems that could provide the reliable long term ( 10+ days) capacity needed to balance the typical variability of wind and sun generation.
        Tidal is predicable but the output can only be taken for four periods a day, these are around an hour later each day and the output varies by +/- 30 to 50% every two weeks of the lunar cycle.
        In hot climates solar is ideally matched to the peak demands for daytime air conditioning but needs battery buffers to cover short term variability from clouds and very large battery storage when insolation is low in overcast weather and at night.

        Wind has the advantage of blowing at anytime of day. It is however very variable and, even when combined over several hundred miles there will be periods of over 100hrs when the output is less than 5% of the planned capacity. Many years ago Gumbell in his classic ” The Statistics of Extremes” pointed out ” No matter how large the last flood was there will always be a larger one sometime in the future”

        We are increasingly dependent on having reliable electricity supplies. No electricity – no money. No electricity – can’t use the car as the petrol pumps won’t work – – – – . We should always focus on the concept of the quality of electricity – the stability of the supply, voltage and frequency should be the key consideration when selecting any new green or conventional systems, their suppliers and operators.

      • Not one of the ‘systems’ you mention, tidal, wind, solar, with or without pumped hydro, meet your own criteria. No country relies on them, because they do not work, and never will. The myth of 100% wind and solar is busted. SA hit 50% after it blew up its coal fired plant. It is a categorical disaster, with the world’s highest power prices and mass load shedding and blackouts. Coal, gas and hydro power Australia and will do for generations to come. The rest is wishful thinking from intellectual pygmies.

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