The energy storage market has become the most critical aspect for renewables such as solar and wind power as it could solve the major issue of intermittency in renewable power generation. Tesla has already made its foray into the energy storage market by launching its Powerwall battery system.
However, there are some other exciting technologies that could perhaps compete with Tesla for the energy storage crown in the future. Lightsail Energy is one such company that has devised an unconventional way of storing solar and wind energy in tanks of compressed air.
Lightsail Energy’s Compressed Air Batteries
Compressed air battery assembly
Image Source: Medium.com
Lightsail Energy, a company located at Berkeley CA, claims that it has a solution for energy storage that is not only cheap but also scalable and proven. The technique of storing wind and solar energy in compressed air tanks is not a new concept, but Lightsail has used carbon fibers, water sprays, and advanced designs to achieve much more efficiency storage. The compressed air containers can be arranged to form large storage reservoirs that can then provide the stored energy when required. Electricity could then be generated from this stored energy during times of peak demand. Related: Saudi Oil Strategy: Brilliant Or Suicide?
Has anyone invested in this technology?
Danielle Fong, the founder of Lightsail, is extremely upbeat about Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES), a concept which has been around since 1870s but has failed to generate traction earlier due to limitations associated with the extraction of stored energy from underground caverns. According to Fong, Lightsail Energy’s technique of using ‘above the ground’ storage tanks is not only efficient but also commercially viable. This technique has been tested successfully in the laboratory and is now about to be tested in the field in North America. Moreover, with $58 million dollar funding from global players such as Total, Khosla Ventures, Peter Thiel, Founder Funds and Bill Gates, Lightsail’ s investor portfolio is indeed impressive.
Who are the other notable players in the energy storage market in terms of invested capital?
Power to Gas technology: The Power to gas technology has the capability of converting electricity into gaseous energy, thereby storing excess power from renewable sources. Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) is launching this technology in the United States in collaboration with National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and National Fuel Cell Research Centre (NFCR). It is interesting to note that auto major Audi has already used this technology by constructing the first 6MW ‘Power to gas’ plant in Germany.
Audi’s power to gas process
Image Source: Audi
The ‘power to gas technology’ is cheaper (just like compressed air battery assembly) and offers better storage capacity when compared to storage batteries. Related: Chevron’s Mishap Highlights Risk of Deepwater Drilling
Supercapacitors: Having the capability of lasting for millions of charge/discharge cycles, supercapacitors can be charged very quickly when compared to batteries. However, their huge size and lower storage capacity make them more expensive than batteries, power to gas technology and compressed air technology. A team of international researchers has recently created a supercapacitor film that is thin, relatively strong and could release a large amount of energy in a short time. This development could eventually result in much wider acceptance of supercapacitors. However to date, only a few companies like Maxwell Technologies have invested in supercapacitors which are used in China’s hybrid buses.
Lithium Ion Batteries: Tesla’s ‘Powerwall’ battery can store solar energy from rooftop solar panels and this energy could be used later when needed. One of the benefits of using Powerwall is that it can store energy during ‘non- peak’ hours and this energy can be utilized during peak hours when conventional electricity rates are higher. Tesla’s Powerwall units come in sizes of 7 kWh and 10 KWh Lithium ion batteries and will have average running costs of $429/kWh and $350/kWh respectively. Even Auto giant Daimler is set to enter the energy storage market by offering Mercedes Benz branded lithium ion batteries for home and commercial usage. Daimler is investing around $111 million in its subsidiary Deutsche Accumotive and is planning to target the U.S. energy storage market in the future.
Which is the most realistic energy storage option that can be widely accepted?
Although Lightsail Energy offers a cheap and laboratory-proven energy storage solution, it has still not been tested in the field. And, with the presence of so many players in the energy storage market, it is quite obvious that there would be only one winner whose storage technology would be widely accepted by residential and commercial users. Related: Japan’s Nuclear Restart Could Spell Disaster For Commodities Markets
Currently, Tesla’s Powerwall system has created the greatest buzz in the energy storage market. In fact, a report from PV Tech has stated that with bookings of up to $1 billion and more than 100,000 reservations, Tesla’s’ Powerwall system has already been ‘sold out’ for the year 2016. Moreover, with incentives worth $1.3 billion from the state of Nevada, the construction of Tesla’s massive ‘Gigafactory’ is well on track.
This shows that Tesla’s battery technology is indeed the front runner for the energy storage crown especially since it is being supported by both the public and the federal government in form of investments, incentives and tax holidays.
By Gaurav Agnihotri for Oilprice.com
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