Battery storage for renewable power

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A burst of entrepreneurial energy down under promises to transform the fortunes of renewable power. Path-breaking entrepreneur Elon (Tesla) Musk is reportedly setting up a 100-MW hour power battery storage capacity in South Australia, in 100 days flat. It would be the world’s largest utility-scale power storage — at an attractive cost — and slated to greatly boost renewable energy.

Also notable is the fact that Musk is leveraging scale economies to drive down the costs of electric power storage. The ballpark figure stated is $250 per kWh as capital expenditure, and about $0.3/kWh as operational-ex.

Reports says that the Australia facility would use conventional lithium-ion batteries, for which Tesla is joining hands with Panasonic. But costs should fall much further. There’s a paradigm shift in the offing in battery storage technology. Vanadium-flow batteries promise to quite dramatically reduce the op-ex for electric storage to only about $0.05/kWh, which would amount to grid-parity tariffs here, in rupees.

Note that the sheer intermittency of renewable energy, solar or wind power, makes battery storage crucial, with op-ex currently put at upwards of 30 cents/kWh. But this essentially ends up tripling the effective cost of renewable power generation, not counting evacuation costs.

The V-flow batteries are fully containerised, nonflammable and reusable systems which discharge 100% of the stored energy. They also do not degrade for more than 20 years and seem eminently scalable. But currently the only V-flow battery is in Washington state in the US, of 8 MWh capacity built using a proprietary molecule as electrolyte. Proactive policies and multilateral initiatives can well rev up storage capacity. There is other exciting research in battery technology, too.


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