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On The Case for Grid-Connected Energy Storage

The difference, of course, is that artificial photosynthesis is a technology which, though it holds great promise, still needs a lot of work at the basic science level before anyone can say for sure that there will be a practical application for it.  As Robert Oppenheimer said, scientific breakthroughs don't happen because we want them to happen.  They happen because science allows them to happen.  

Energy storage technology (or at least much of it) is well past the stage of being a basic science challenge.  We know that it works and we know how to deploy it in the field.  It is just that experience with grid-connected energy storage is limited and the cost of the technology is high.   Energy storage is a technology that cries out for more current deployment, so that experience with it can increase and the cost of storage systems can come down.  And, yes, it also cries out for more investment in basic science research on next generation storage technologies, which could further reduce the cost of energy storage systems.

February 17, 2013    View Comment    

On The Case for Grid-Connected Energy Storage

The elephant is real.  My point is that it is the same elephant that the wind industry faced ten years ago.  Thanks to government subsidies in the United States and abroad, the costs and limitations of wind energy have dropped dramatically over the past 10 years.  The low price of natural gas has temporarily masked this great energy policy success story.  But if gas prices go back above $6 per 1,000 cubic foot for any extended period of time (a not unlikely occurrence), the payoff from the investment in wind technology will quickly become apparent.  Storage is the same story, only more so.  The payoff from storage coming "into the money" would theoretically be much greater than that of wind power.  But storage technology needs the same investment and development as did wind and solar to reach commercial viability.  Unfortunately, it has received only a fraction of the investment.

February 17, 2013    View Comment    

On New Hope For The Advanced Battery Sector?

Another point that is often missed:  In technology development there is value even in complete failure.  Knowing where the blind alleys are is important if you are trying to navigate the streets.

December 4, 2012    View Comment    

On The Real Energy Crisis

Rick:

Batteries and electric vehicles were not oversold five years ago; the energy environment in which they were expecting to operate was simply misanticipated.  By way of example, the Chevy Volt really is a great car.  It would be a better car if its battery had a higher energy density.  But it is just fine for what most American consumers use a light vehicle to do.  With the price of gasoline at $3.85 per gallon, the Volt is still too expensive for most consumers.  But if gasoline was $12.00 per gallon, consumers' calculation would probably be different and there would be no talk of oversold battery technology. 

Jim

November 14, 2012    View Comment    

On How to Lower the Cost of Gasoline

Geoffrey:  Thank you for your comment, which is, as always, well taken.  And I do apologize wholeheartedly for the "most experts agree" line--you are absolutely correct in your reaction to it.

I do not understand, however, your point about the marginal cost of the last barrel into the market setting the price (though I have heard this posited before).  I will concede the corrolation (deferring to your trading experience), but I am unconvinced as to the causality.  It seems to me that the price of gasoline must follow the classic monopoloy pricing rules that every undergraduate learns in Economoics 101.  If you can explain why it does not, I would be most interested in the explanation.

 

September 21, 2012    View Comment    

On Energy Independence and Electricity Storage

Do you really believe that greed, avarice and automobile accidents will be eliminated by moving from fossil fuels to renewables?  Oil has its problems (GHG emissions, energy security issues, monopoly pricing power over consumers), but it is not itself an evil.  Your complaint seems to be with human nature, not energy policy.

September 3, 2012    View Comment    

On Energy Independence and Electricity Storage

If the Romney-Ryan plan, or any plan like it, becomes an excuse not to invest in the basic science and demonstration projects necessary to continue the development of new energy technologies then, yes, I agree, the plan is a serious problem.  And yes, I fear, that may be what is intended.  But there is a valid point that must be acknowledged:  Over the past five years technological advances in renewable energy technology and energy storage have largely been matched by advances in petroleum production technology and the internal cumbustion engine.  It would appear that we are farther out from the "peak oil" moment than what many of us anticipated just a few years ago.  Oil is not evil; it is simply limited.  Do you really believe that human society would be better off if petroleum reserves could magically be reduced by 50%?

September 2, 2012    View Comment    

On What Role for China in the U.S. Battery Industry?

Of course.  The largest and most immediate market for advanced automotive batteries will likely be in China.  But other markets for advanced batteries exist and are likely to grow substantially over time.  Perhaps part of the discussion with our Chinese business partners should center on the question of where the batteries for those other markets will be made?

August 12, 2012    View Comment    

On The 2013 US Energy Agenda

Geoff:

A well-written and well-reasoned article.  My only caution is that just as the disappointments and challenges of renewable energy have become more apparent over time, five years from now I suspect that we will be having much the same concerns about tight oil and unconventional gas.  If the experience of the last few years points to anything, it is to the folly of trying to put too many energy innovation eggs into one basket.  For so long as the world economy and world population continues to expand, energy will be a challenge and a potential threat to growth.  High expectations for tight oil and unconventional gas should not become an excuse for complaciency.

--Jim

 

July 13, 2012    View Comment    

On Experience with Energy Storage Technology Is The Key to Promoting Innovation

I am hoping for a breakthrough as well.  But as Robert Oppenheimer once observed, scientific breakthroughs don't happen because we want them to occur; they happen because the science permits them to occur.  The good news is that, though no short term breakthroughs are expected, steady progress is being made on improving the energy density of lithium-ion battery cells.  There are theoretical limits to what can be done, but innovation may yet find ways to work around some of those limits.  The key to progress in energy storage technology may turn out to be trying to hit a series of singles, rather than swinging for the fence.  For the moment it is too early to determine what the best strategy will be.  And for that reason we need to keep both approaches--swinging for singles and swinging for the fence--open.

April 5, 2012    View Comment    

On Experience with Energy Storage Technology Is The Key to Promoting Innovation

I am not sure that I can reconcile the Lux numbers, though I suspect that Lux could explain the discrepancy. My guess, however, is that the source of the confusion is that the number in the report refers to the cost per kWh of the battery pack, while Kevin See in talking about Envia was referring the the cost per kWh of the battery cells (which is what Envia makes). As a general rule of thumb, the cost of the cell accounts for about 70% of the cost of the battery pack in lithium-ion automotive applications.
April 5, 2012    View Comment    

On Experience with Energy Storage Technology Is The Key to Promoting Innovation

Thanks, Rajat.  Putting a price on externalities is a great idea, and in the perfect world that is what would happen.  But the world is not perfect and the chance of pricing many if not most externalities that effect the relative value of energy storage is not great.  The best we will likely be able to do is to price those externalities in reverse, by subsidizing certain applications of energy storage that address those unpriced externalities.


With regard to the best way to subsidize the development of energy storage technologies, I would take no issue with your assessment of ARPA-E, which is a great and innovative program.  But, in certain stationary storage applications, storage is a lot closer to cost-competitive than you might think.  And if you factor in the price of the externalities, certain stationary storage applications may already make economic sense.  Moreover the opportunity for further and significant reductions in the price of certain stationary storage applications is very real and near term.  My point is that we should not ignor the near term opportunities to reduce the cost of storage by focusing all of our efforts on developing next-generation technology.  We need to do both.

April 2, 2012    View Comment