For that, renewables such as wind and solar are key. But their supply fluctuates – and still, energy demand has to be met, and the grid has to operate reliably and economically.
While today’s energy producers respond to grid fluctuations by mainly relying on fossil-fired power plants, energy storage solutions will take on a dominant role in fulfilling this need in the future, supplying renewable energy 24/7. It’s already taking shape today – and in the coming years it will become a more and more indispensable and flexible part of our new energy world.
Today, in a variety of cases, battery storage is being used as an efficient method of supplying power when needed. For example, many large offshore vessels or drilling platforms use it for their electricity needs. In power plants, together with mechanical flywheels, batteries are being used for ensuring grid stability, to perform ‘black starts’ (without external power sources) if needed, and support frequency regulation. They are also directly connected to the grid as stand-alone solutions to help with fluctuating power supply and demand. And combining renewables – such as wind farms – with battery storage can successfully manage power depending on current needs.
By mid-century, we envision a nearly completely decarbonized world with power produced from renewable sources only, resulting in efficient power consumption across society, intelligent management of a decentralized power grid, and the wide use of different energy storage technologies. Batteries will be used for short-term storage of electricity, and, for mid-term storage, combinations of thermal and mechanical storage solutions will provide industrial heat and electricity. Also, electrolyzers will turn excess power from renewables into green hydrogen that can be stored long term and turned into electricity or transferred to other sectors of the economy as needed.
The situation energy producers, distributers and industrial consumers find themselves in is by no means easy. They face constant social pressure to decarbonize – and risk ruining their reputation if they appear not to act fast enough. As long as they emit CO2, they have to pay a hefty price for it. Once energy utilities close fossil-fired power plants, they have to manage stranded assets.
Also, renewable energy producers have to ensure a consistent availability of energy – and in order to do so, they may have to curtail output. And as the share of renewable energy increases year over year, operators are challenged to cost-efficiently match energy supply and demand and ensure grid stability.
But a steady flow of energy is non-negotiable: Industry, like many other sectors of the economy, relies on it in order to ensure its operations run smoothly and without interruption. The production of green hydrogen also requires renewable energy sources, but if none are available, energy still needs to be at hand to manufacture it.
Energy storage solves many of these problems:
Sources: BNEF Neo, IEA, DOE global energy storage database, Fraunhofer ISE