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The importance of batteries in renewable energy

Renewable energy is growing at a meteoric pace. Several countries have committed to 100% renewable energy targets that fall within the next two to three decades, with wind and solar energy as especially significant sources of the renewable revolution.

However, renewable energy sources have unique challenges that must be overcome before they can truly replace the classic electricity generation methods that we’ve been using over a century.

Grid energy storage

One of these is the simple problem of availability – solar, for example, is only available when the sun is out. When the energy source is unavailable, no electricity can be generated.

Grid energy storage was developed to address overproduction of electricity during off-peak hours, especially for baseload power plants such as nuclear power plants whose energy output is relatively inflexible. However, it has been co-opted to help solve the availability issue of renewable energy by storing energy during periods of generation, and releasing it when the source is unavailable.

Various methods of grid energy storage exist. The vast majority of all grid energy storage is pumped hydroelectric storage, in which excess electricity is used to pump water into a reservoir located on a higher elevation, increasing its gravitational potential energy. During night-time for the example of solar energy, the reservoir is opened and gravity pulls the water back down through turbine generators, returning around 80% of the stored electricity.

The principal issue of pumped energy storage is that it requires an available elevated area and large space in which to pump the water in the first place. For flat areas or cramped regions, this method may be inviable.

Battery Storage

One method that’s growing in popularity is rechargeable battery storage, which employs lithium-ion batteries to store and release electricity. Previously the cost of this technology has been prohibitive, but the advent of electric vehicles and the growth of solar energy have spurred significant advances in both energy density and cost per unit of storage.

Lithium-ion battery storage can be used at the grid level to store energy to be released on a large scale, or at the home level to allow individual households to stay off the grid when equipped with their own solar panels.

The importance of high-quality batteries

Batteries are becoming an increasingly important element of the renewable energy problem. BloombergNEF estimates that by 2040, the total worldwide energy storage capacity will reach 7% of the world’s energy capacity.

If batteries are to be entrusted with such a mission-critical role, they must be reliable and across all possible loads. This certainly means the elevation of the battery testing standard, especially as regards high precision battery tests. Power quality is an important metric, after all, not just raw storage density or availability.

On top of that, the environmental cost of manufacturing batteries will start to ramp up, as more and more lithium and cobalt are mined to support increased production. With battery testing, faults can be eliminated before they make it to load-bearing situations, and the materials can be recovered for recycling into new batteries.

Finally, as batteries become ever more prevalent, battery safety and battery monitoring systems will become of paramount concern. A bad battery in a small device can already lead to a house fire; a bad battery with the ability to discharge hundreds of kilowatts can be devastating. Proper battery testing can prevent this scenario from ever occurring.

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