Solar energy is one of the most promising forms of renewable energy. Elon Musk has been an advocate of solar energy, and he believes that the world can be powered entirely by solar panels and batteries. However, the problem with solar energy is that it only works when the weather conditions are right. To address this issue, batteries have been proposed as a solution. In this article, we will discuss the feasibility of storing solar energy with batteries and the cost of implementing this solution.
The Limitations of Wind and Solar Energy
Wind and solar energy are great sources of renewable energy. However, they only work when the weather conditions are right. Coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy work approximately 90% of the time, but wind and solar energy can sometimes produce a lot of energy when it’s not needed, or no energy when it is. Batteries have been proposed as the solution to this problem.
The Cost of Storing Solar Energy with Batteries
Energy expert Alex Epstein calculated the cost of providing enough energy to power the globe with batteries. Epstein went with a conservative estimate of three days of battery power as the backup needed for this global solar energy supply. For three days of battery storage, the world would need 1.36 billion megawatt hours stored. Based on the current cost of Tesla Megapacks, the batteries needed for those three days of storage would cost $590 trillion or six times the global gross domestic product.
Battery Storage in the U.S.
The amount of battery storage in the U.S. is very small. In 2021, the U.S. used 4.116 gigawatt hours of electricity, and the total amount of battery electrical storage on the grid in 2021 was 9 gigawatt hours. This means that the U.S. is storing 2 watt hours for every 1 million watt hours right now.
The Real Cost of Storing Solar Energy
To illustrate the real cost of storing solar energy with batteries, energy and environmental policy expert Steve Goreham pointed to a 9,000-megawatt offshore wind energy project being developed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The project includes 3,000 megawatts of battery capacity, and the batteries would back up the wind farm for two to four hours. To backup the wind farm for a single day would cost around $43 billion. This cost is so high that Goreham believes that transitioning all electrical generation from fossil fuels to wind and solar is not feasible.
Pumped storage is an alternative to batteries that uses gravity to store energy. When wind and solar farms are producing power when demand is low, the electricity is used to drive pumps to store water in elevated bodies. Then, when demand is high and power production low, the water is drained to spin turbines, just like a dam does with the downward flow of water on a river. Pumped storage works well and is much cheaper than batteries, but it requires a lot of land and water.
PacifiCorp serves 2 million energy customers throughout the U.S. West. It plans to have 700 megawatts of battery storage by 2024, and by 2040, the company plans to have 4,781 megawatts of various storage types, including batteries and pumped storage. However, the plan doesn’t call for 100% wind and solar, so it won’t have to depend solely on storage during extended periods of wind and solar outages.
While batteries are a great solution to the problem of storing solar energy, the cost of implementing this solution is prohibitively
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