I was reading an article a few months ago on cleantech and came across a quotation that I thought was most noteworthy, “storage is the Holy Grail of cleantech.” I don’t think there is a truer statement about renewable energy than that. So why is that?
Let’s look at where the money and research has gone for electricity generation as of late:
From the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch graph above, we see that wind and solar make up about 81% of the capital investment in renewable technologies recently. And because of this capital investment, wind and solar technology have become quite impressive in terms of the efficiency (relative to a few years ago) and the number of seriously interested parties and installations. There, however, is one, fairly large, problem that both technologies exhibit: The wind ain’t always blowing, and the sun ain’t always shining. This characteristic has been a killer drawback for both technologies. Consumers want electricity when they demand it, not just when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, and therefore nearly all wind and solar technologies, with current technology, can’t be used for base load electricity generation, they can only be used as an auxiliary source. A power company still needs to have enough coal-fired generation plants, nuclear plants, natural gas plants, or hydro plants to provide that minimum base load of electricity to consumers and only use that renewable technology when it’s generating power and is demanded. As things stand, it’s pretty inefficient.
But this is where storage comes in. If the wind is blowing, turning the wind turbines and generating electricity in west Texas all night and this electricity can be stored in some big battery type device until the following afternoon when it is actually needed to cool the office building and homes in Houston, then wind energy is looking a lot better and a lot closer to a viable base load technology versus an auxiliary one. The case is the same for solar, if the electricity generated on one hot sunny day can be stored and used on a rainy one, solar is looking a lot better too. Storage is indeed the Holy Grail of cleantech.