Analysis Suggests Elon Musk’s Vision Of A Battery-Powered Society Remains An Unworkable Fantasy

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Our energy supply system finds itself in a transformation over to a far greater share of renewable energies. Though some have been fooled into believing the transformation can be done completely in just a matter of a few years, sobriety tells us it’s going to take considerably longer, and batteries are not the answer to the supply volatility problem.

Battery storage “still needs to demonstrate that it eventually can become cost-effective and reduce its significant ecological footprint,” says Dr. Sebastian Lüning.

Wind and solar energy’s high supply volatility require mass storage capacity whose solution remains off in the future. Chart above depicts Germany’s demand and supply by wind in sun. 

What follows is the abstract of a review of renewable energies (starts on page 204) by Dr. Sebastian Lüning (emphasis added).

Abstract

As the share of renewable energies keeps rising in the global energy mix year by year, volatility of wind and solar energy sources needs to be carefully counterbalanced with adequate Electrical Energy Storage (EES). Suitable storage solutions need to have mass storage capacity to supply whole countries for several days to weeks during renewable supply gaps. At the same time, storage needs to be cost-effective and full-cycle energy losses need to be minimized. Stimulated by the wish to achieve decarbonization as quickly as possible, significant research efforts are currently underway worldwide to come up with solutions to the energy storage challenge. This article summarizes the most promising technologies to fill the EES gap, highlighting advantages, challenges and chances of mid-term technological breakthrough. In order to facilitate the discussion, the storage technologies are grouped here into the following categories: (1) Rechargeable batteries, (2) Pumped hydro energy storage, (3) Power-to-gas and power-to-liquid, (4) Compressed air, (5) Thermal, and (6) Flywheels.

Whilst all technologies will be useful for specific applications, artificial fuels (power-to-liquid and power-to-gas) appear particularly promising to take the energy transition to a new level. Artificial fuels can be stored and transported using established transportation logistics from the hydrocarbon industry. Systems are easily upscalable so that renewable supply gaps of several days or even weeks can be effectively bridged. Artificial fuels can be exported to customers over great distances without major losses, opening up the chance to not only capture surplus electricity for domestic storage but also to specifically produce energy for the export market. The latter applies particularly to sun- and wind-rich regions.

A second promising technology for the energy transition is thermal energy storage (TES) which may soon allow 24 hour operations of solar plants as well as energy storage between the seasons with only small losses.

Battery storage has also got potential but still needs to demonstrate that it eventually can become cost-effective and reduce its significant ecological footprint. Clearing the energy storage bottleneck will be the key challenge for a full-blown switch to renewable energy societies and a robust commercial basis for energy producers, with no recourse to state subsidies.

Clearly there’s a long way to go before a zero-carbon energy supply can be achieved. People who say it can be done by 2025, 2030 or even 2050 don’t know what they’re talking about.




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13 responses to “Analysis Suggests Elon Musk’s Vision Of A Battery-Powered Society Remains An Unworkable Fantasy”

  1. Ben Vorlich

    Any system that can’t supply power for weeks continuously cannot by definition be anything other than a minor player in electricity generation. That counts out wind, solar, battery and to some extent hydro. For the first two that means they’ll never make the grade, battery is highly unlikely and hydro limited to specific areas.

    Weather systems are large enough to cover Northern and western Europe with very similar conditions so when a systems parks over the North Sea for example There can be strong winds or no winds from Portugal in the South to Sweden in the north, and in the case of high pressure lasting weeks.

    Normally anyone who thinks “renewables” can supply all our energy needs could be considered innumerate and misled, but in the case of Elon Musk and Dale Vince there are other explanations

  2. Chris Hanley

    Wind and solar PV are simply far too dilute and intermittent energy sources to compete with thermal sources.
    It has been well established that when storage is included they produce only a fraction of the return on energy invested compared to thermal including nuclear.
    The only reason people in the First World enjoy the lifestyle — health longevity etc. — that they do is due to an abundance of reliable energy.
    Remove that and there is only one way to go viz. down, a process that is already underway.
    Solar PV installations in countries of moderate insolation, for instance Germany, are in fact energy sinks:
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421517302914

  3. John F Hultquist

    Society once stored ice, naturally formed on lakes and rivers, to provide cooling at other times and places.
    https://www.farmcollector.com/equipment/the-coldest-harvest

    What a fun way to spend a winter day.

    1. stewartpid

      My grandfather did the ice cutting in the winter and then storing the ice in a root cellar packed in saw dust for insulation. Mom said in a good year they could make it until August with ice and the big (and rare) treat was to be allowed to use some of the ice to make ice cream.
      This was in Central Saskatchewan Canada around 1920. I think my grandfather was pretty happy to see electricity and refrigerators come on the scene.

      1. Yonason

        My parents still referred to a refrigerator as an “ice box” long after they had electricity. Because of hearing them call it that, I did as well, even though we always had a refrigerator when I was growing up.

        What people used to resort to, before electric refrigeration, for those not familiar with it,
        http://www.woodsholemuseum.org/icehouse/delivery.html

  4. Ross Giddings

    What source will provide the electricity to charge all these batteries?

  5. Dave Ward

    “A second promising technology for the energy transition is thermal energy storage (TES) which may soon allow 24 hour operations of solar plants as well as energy storage between the seasons with only small losses”

    None of the existing plants have worked properly, even with the use of gas to preheat the storage medium…

    1. dm

      CORRECT: NO, repeat NO, TES plant has worked to date.

  6. pochas94

    No mention of hydrogen, which to me is the best prospect for load leveling whether one believes in windmills or not. Feed the grid during peak demand. Make hydrogen off peak and use it to run trucks, buses, and personal transport. Of course this will not make sense to those that make a living spouting nonsense.

  7. Evan

    Hydrogen as a transport fuel is also wildly impractical. Very hard to store and confine in bulk, even in a fixed installation. Using it to create more easily handled hydrocarbon fuels is much more practical, but expensive.

  8. Phil Salmon

    The Chefio has also posted an article proving that it is really absolutely way too late to electrify the car fleet in 12 years. It would / will require more like half a century. And inflict disastrous environmental damage in the process.

    https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2019/12/15/it-is-too-late-not-possible-to-replace-cars-in-time/

    Was ever a “cure” more horribly worse than the “disease”.

  9. Yonason

    “Was ever a “cure” more horribly worse than the “disease”.” – Phil Salmon

    It seem that’s how things are trending these days.

    …which reminds me: I have to take my computer in for servicing.

    https://www.seekpng.com/png/full/144-1440157_man-standing-with-a-sledgehammer-royalty-free-vector.png

  10. Plugging In: The ‘Batteries Will Save Intermittent Wind & Solar’ Myth Goes Up In Flames | ajmarciniak

    […] Clearly, there’s a long way to go before a zero-carbon energy supply can be achieved. People who say it can be done by 2025, 2030 or even 2050 don’t know what they’re talking about.No Tricks Zone […]

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