No Renewables Recharge: Busting the ‘Big Batteries Will Save Wind & Solar’ Myth

You know the wind and solar industries are in trouble when they’re reduced to muttering about humongous batteries saving their bacon.

Around the world, renewable energy rent-seekers have been furiously peddling the myth that mega-batteries are a free and easy solution to the hopeless intermittency of weather-dependent wind and solar.

The line goes that giant banks of lithium ion cells can store ‘free and abundant’ wind and solar power, whenever the sun is up and the wind is blowing (just right). Then, at absolutely zero cost to power consumers, these monster grid-scale batteries can lovingly release groovy ‘green’ power at any time that businesses and households need it.

Back in 2017, South Australia, Australia’s wind power capital, squandered $150 million on one of Elon Musk’s creations, that would power the state for all of 4 minutes when the wind stops blowing and/or the sun goes down.

Giant lithium ion batteries are touted as the antidote to the inherent chaos that comes with attempting to rely on sunshine and breezes; bringing stability and security to a grid on the brink of collapse.

However, as Rafe Champion details below, claims by wind and solar worshippers that ‘big batteries will save us’ is just another humongous lie perpetuated by those with serious skin in the game.

Stop bragging about Big Batteries
Catallaxy Files
Rafe Champion
7 December 2020

They are not grid-scale storage!

Big batteries have been springing up like mushrooms lately and one in Victoria is even described as humongous. Lucky Victorians! Ms D’Ambrosio said every dollar spent would have a $2 return for Victorians. She said the “humongous” battery was an important part of delivering on the state government’s plan to move to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Big batteries are one of the items in the Holy Trinity of strategies to fill in the gaps between the peaks of RE as the Integrated System Plan proceeds. The plan is to replace most of the current 20GW of coal capacity with some 40GW of wind and solar backed up by a humongous amount of firming capacity and storage.

The Holy Trinity is Transmission Lines, Batteries and Pumped Hydro. The problem with transmission lines, apart from the humongous cost is the need to have power to transmit and when the wind is low across the whole SE there is no spare wind power to send anywhere. Batteries are not grid-scale storage, and pumped hydro beyond the Snowy is hardly more than a silly joke in a dry continent or maybe something that could work in special locations off the grid.

As for big batteries, this is the story about what they can do and what they cannot.

Victoria’s Big Battery_ What exactly is it for?_

Let’s put to bed two common misconceptions:

  • The VBB will not store huge quantities of surplus energy generated by renewables on sunny, windy days, and release this back into the grid for days and days when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Its energy storage capacity is limited to at most a few hours’ worth of charging and release. Claims that such batteries will magically solve all the challenges of renewable generation variability and set us on a path to 100 per cent renewables tomorrow totally misconstrue the real roles that grid-scale batteries can effectively play.
  • This limitation is largely irrelevant, because storing and time-shifting large quantities of energy isn’t remotely the justification for battery projects anywhere.

A roundup of big battery projects around the country.
Catallaxy Files

11 thoughts on “No Renewables Recharge: Busting the ‘Big Batteries Will Save Wind & Solar’ Myth

  1. Just a few reminders for those out there who still believe these monster batteries are all we need.
    It goes something life this – Industrial Scale Wind Turbine plants are wonderful because even if the wind isn’t blowing in one place it will be somewhere (which could be at the North Pole). Then came Batteries and Large Scale Solar plants. Big Batteries to jump in and for very short periods steady the shock dysfunctional
    Turbines, to save the Grid having a hic-up, not simply to store energy to use when there is nothing else.
    Then Large Scale Solar to help during the day when the wind isn’t blowing – well not where you want it anyway (at the Turbine sites). But obviously solar is only able to produce when the sun shines, which it doesn’t during the night or when clouds make a showing at any time of the day.
    So of course more Big Batteries are being rolled out to save the day and supply energy to homes, business, hospital, industry etc.
    Wonderful – except for one thing they can fail, they runout of puff if the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. They also have to be replaced – note what happens to your smartphone when the battery fails. You have to a new battery!
    Nothing new there – we just have to wait for those trusty ‘brain dead’, to come up with something else to cover for the fact that at the very beginning of this process of changing over to ‘renewable’ energy production, we were told Industrial scale Wind Turbine plants were the way to go – which has proven to be a BIG CON.
    Lets not forgot even if the Hornsdale ‘Big Money Pit’ was installed when SA had its State wide blackout NOTHING could have prevented it – WHY – because it was Industrial Scale Turbines that shutting down which significantly contributed to the Blackout and the length of time it took to reinstate energy throughout the whole of SA.
    If the power cable towers that came down were the only problem then the whole state would not have been affected, but because these monster Industrial Scale Turbines are connected directly to the State Grid and were not maintained and did not have the right safety approvals in place to start with, the State went Black.
    The ‘Big Money Pits’ have been installed to prevent hic-up in delivery of power through the Grid, but if none is coming through they are only useful for very short periods.
    We need a secure reliable energy production process with strict controls and maintenance on the Grid system. The system being installed across this country is designed for mayhem, common sense should tell the powers that be that the best control is a control of the least complex systems not the most complex.
    Anything proposed to ensure a secure supply of energy should not be more of the same stupidity and should not make the system even more complex.

  2. There are two other things about Australia. — No, actually three. They have lots of fossil coal, plenty of uranium which isn’t a fossil fuel unless you count dead stars, and the Great Barrier Reef which carbon dioxide is likely to kill, and radiation isn’t. The coal industry is much more powerful than the nuclear, although a kilo of uranium contains more energy than several thousand tons of coal and the oxygen to burn it.
    The pretence of caring about fossil CO₂ emissions is exposed by the fact that there is no effort or plan of what to do when either Australia _OR_ the rest of the world realises that they can get rid of the need for coal and fossil hydrocarbons including CH₄, literally carbon tetrahydride, or methane, romantically called “natural gas” which is exactly as natural as petrol or gasoline, primarily heptane and octane.

    1. I forgot to mention Dr. Alex Cannara, who reckons that fossil CO₂ emissions can kill every calcium-dependent life in the oceans if the pH reaches 8.0; it has already in about 200 yearss gone from 8.2 to 8.1 . Although pH=8.0 is still alkaline, the direction is called ‘acidification’, and “renewable energy” has no possibility of stopping it.

    2. The Reef is in great shape despite the best efforts of warming alarmists to kill it by writing fake scinece reports about it.

  3. The biggest battery-equivalent in the world, pumped hydro, is in my own state, Virginia, at Bath County. It can accept 3 GW of otherwise unused power, and when full it can deliver 24,000 MWh, i.e. one gigawatt-day. By my information, to the effect that the earliest class of thermal reactors, the PWR, that gets 8 million kWh per kg of fissile fuel consumed, it follows that 3 kg of uranium 235 isotope, or of the plutonium 239 that provides about a third of the power of a PWR, stores as much energy as the biggest storage unit in the world.
    But note further, that whereas a reactor of 1.1 GW capacity can save off-peak capacity quite usefully with a 500 MW storage facility, it takes 3 GW of pumping capacity to even out the 3 GW of wind devices needed to average 1 GW of production, when the wind drives the “wind farm” at full power and nobody needs it.

  4. There is to be a 700 MW new battery built near Eraring coal-fired power station. The article by Perry Williams in the Australian implies that it is somehow equivalent. Eraring our biggest power station supplies over 17 TW hours of electricity per annum. The battery would have a capacity of 896 MW hours and be charged by a generator from somewhere else. Ignoring that I have put a comment (published) see below on the article and I thought I should advertise this to others. The take-home is such a battery would not be able to stabilise a wind power station which was 120 MW in size.

    As far as stabilising grid renewable energy batteries are toys.

    So, a large battery storage is to be built near Eraring. Since it is 700 MW and a lithium-ion technology it is like the Tesla battery installed in South Australia. That has a capacity of 150 MW and will deliver 192 MW hours. The cost being $161 million. This new battery on that basis should be able to deliver 896 MW hours. On the same basis the cost would be $750 million. It is surmised this would stabilise electricity output for wind.

    AEMO data has many instances of wind drought and these should be, using storage evened out to the average output. Suppose you have a small wind power station. Let us calculate what would be needed for 120 MW. The longest drought in 2020 started at 11:00 on 5 June and ended at 20:00 on 6 June. If the expectation is wind will deliver 30% on average from the power station, then 1224 MW hours then that is what is needed from the battery less the amount delivered. The amount delivered from the power station according to data will be 226 MW hours. That is, you need a battery that will deliver 998 MW hours. The battery is 102 MW hours too small to even support one 120 MW wind power station!

  5. Not to mention the HUGE sums needed to dig out the precious metals needed to make the batteries. These metals are precious because they are scarce !! So how long will this lunacy keep our lights on for (world-wide) ?????

  6. Simple common sense tells us that fossil fuel is stored energy accumulated since time began. Fossil fuel energy can be released and applied when needed, as needed.

    For the combination of renewables and batteries to match that capability, the size and storage of the battery will need to approach the impossible value of infinity.

    It is not going to happen!

    1. Strictly speaking, friend Wise-to-Wind, I think it was three billion years or more before this planet had enough living organic matte for the occasional catastrophe to fossilise it and leave the oxygen in the air.
      Not that it affects your conclusion!
      For electric grid use, batteries are puny compared with pumped hydro, but your last line still applies.
      However, and Lord Kelvin was blamelessly unaware of it the Earth collected when it self-aggregated, enough long-lived radioactive matter to last 4400 million years longer with a molten centre, than his quite magisterial conclusion of a hundred million “at the most”!

  7. Perry Williams in the national daily paper has been busy promoting big batteries because there are several more on the way. He refers to the number of MW for the batteries and sometimes how long they will last, like 4 hours. He usually does not specify the actual capacity in MW hours MWh, because that would give the game away.
    This is a survey of his recent efforts. See the wonderful diagram that shows the pathetic capacity of the original big Musk battery in Australia, the Hornsdale Power Reseve.

    1. Very true Rafe, and sadly our average Jane citizen (not to mention our average politician) has little or any comprehension as to the difference between MWh and MW.
      Sadly the rent seekers of the climate industrial complex will do their utmost to see that it stays that way.

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