Mother Nature’s Nature
In any given hour, the sun and wind are capable of providing us with more energy than we could use in a year. Obviously, the sun isn’t always shining, nor is the wind always blowing. So, the biggest obstruction on our path to a full-scale transition from burning fossil fuels to using solar, wind and other renewable energies to meet our energy requirements appears to be the intermittent nature of Mother Nature.
Acid rain, ozone depletion and climate change clearly prove that humanity can influence Mother Nature in many ways. Indeed, we do have tremendous capabilities for influencing our planet’s environment but the ability to direct when and where the sun shines or the wind blows is not among them.
We do, however, have an incredible drive and capacity for technological discovery. Our compulsion to evolve and to control our surroundings has led to massive and invaluable energy storage technology research by both governmental and private institutions; much of which is now coming to fruition.
Coming Soon: Grid Parity of Solar-with-Storage
The popularity of renewable energies has increased demand for energy storage. In response, energy storage industry leaders like Crown, Trojan, STEM an SAFT have invested significantly in research and improving their production capabilities. Consequently there have been many recent breakthroughs and developments that will soon lead to cost-effective means for solar and other renewable energies to be stored within a variety of new and improved storage technologies. Wet and Dry cell battery storage as well as Fly-wheels and Compressed Air Energy Storage technologies are already in use by many small and large scale renewable operations to reduce on-site peak demand charges in states that have those type charges.
Additionally, the increasing emphasis on fast-tracking energy storage technology development being driven by populist demand has prompted many successful and internationally prominent companies including Tesla, Panasonic, Sharp and Sunpower to make energy storage their top priority. At this pace it won’t be long before an assortment of energy storage technologies step up to meet all those peak demand loads for which utilities and the fossil fuel industries claim that they alone are capable of handling.
According to Rocky Mountain Institute’s study, “The Economics of Grid Defection; When and where Distributed Solar Generation plus Storage competes with traditional Utility Services”, utility customers in states like California and New York will be able to cost-effectively go off-grid by 2031. In fact, due to the high cost of electricity in Hawaii, it is already affordable for customers there for both commercial and residential customers to combine solar and energy storage to go “off grid”. The RMI study predicts that solar-with-storage will reach grid-parity in most states by 2050.
An Assist from Electric Vehicles
Much of the incredible advances being made to battery technologies is due to the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) and the subsequent demand for production of EV batteries. RMI’s report might even be a little conservative because it was published before the recent announcements by Tesla that it was going to build a couple new “Giga Factories”, devoted to reducing the cost of the lithium-oxide batteries used by their EVs by 30 percent within 3 years and by 50 percent by 2020. The progress in EV battery technology is easily transferrable to the world of solar and wind generated electricity helping to make both more efficient and less expensive. These storage breakthroughs are leading the way to a future where connecting to the grid can become optional, enabling anybody who wants to spend less on energy costs while becoming energy independent the option of pulling the plug on their utility.
Pushback by the Utilities, the fossil-fuel industry and their political spokespersons.
Although we continue to learn how to master the technological limitations it appears that the most difficult obstacles might actually be those that are created and used by ideologically driven, personal, financial or political posturing. Often those obstructions are created with the deliberate intentions of hampering renewables progress on behalf of those who view the transition to a more environmentally safe and secure energy future with fear.
Indeed, the prospects of the widespread adoption of solar with storage has the Edison Electric Institute’s consortium of utilities and fossil-fuel partners worried about their future profitability. Not only will they be selling much less of their fossil-fueled energy as more renewable energy is adopted by utility customers, but with a typical life-time of a fossil-fueled power plant being approximately 30 years, when the time comes for replacement, it will be much less expensive to install solar-with-storage in their place. Considering the tremendous financial implications it’s no wonder that the utility companies and fossil-fuel industry are working alongside the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to create doubt and confusion surrounding the viability of renewables and to devalue the benefits of the improved grid security and reliability as well as the environmental and social externalities that renewable implementation offers.
Big Mo’ is On Our Side
Fortunately, polls show that nearly 90 percent of people surveyed want this transition to renewables to happen, and sooner rather than later, so momentum is on our side. Don’t let ideology stand in the way.