Storing energy: one of our biggest challenges. 

Renewable energy plays a key role in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. 

However, the intermittent nature of renewable energy presents a significant challenge. What do we do when we generate more energy than we need? Is storing energy possible? 

Renewable energy storage is a crucial solution that bridges the gap between energy production and consumption. 

Let’s take a closer look into what renewable energy storage involves, why it’s necessary, its benefits, and the technologies driving its advancement.

Why do we need to store renewable energy?

Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydropower are inherently intermittent. 

The sun doesn’t shine 24/7. The wind isn’t constant. Hydroelectric power relies on seasonal river flows.

But neither is the demand for energy as people tend to use different amounts of energy at different times of the day and the year. 

This variability poses a dilemma: how to match energy supply with demand consistently? 

The answer lies in storing energy during times of surplus for use when renewable sources are inactive or insufficient to meet demand.

Imagine a scenario where excess solar energy generated during the day is stored and later tapped into during the night or on cloudy days. 

This capability not only enhances grid stability but also ensures a reliable and uninterrupted energy supply, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

In addition to this, global renewable energy capacity could rise as much in 2022-2027 as it did in the previous 20 years. We need to find ways to store this energy so that it is not wasted. 

Benefits of renewable energy storage

Energy Efficiency: The main benefit of being able to store renewable energy is that it helps to prevent renewable resources from going to waste. 

Other benefits include:

Grid Stability and Reliability: Energy storage systems act as a buffer, balancing supply and demand fluctuations in real time. This stabilises the grid, reducing the risk of blackouts and ensuring a consistent power supply.

Flexibility and Resilience: Energy storage decentralises power generation, empowering communities to become more self-reliant. In remote areas or during emergencies, stored energy can provide a lifeline, powering essential services and maintaining critical infrastructure.

Economic Viability: By storing excess renewable energy, users can capitalise on peak demand periods when electricity prices are higher. This can lead to cost savings and potentially lucrative revenue streams, bolstering the economic case for renewable energy adoption.

Environmental Sustainability: Transitioning to renewable energy sources coupled with storage solutions significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation associated with fossil fuel combustion. It paves the way for a cleaner, greener future.

Technologies used for renewable energy storage

Lithium-ion batteries continue to dominate the market due to their high energy density, efficiency, and declining costs. They find applications in both small-scale residential setups and large utility-scale projects.

Flow batteries, such as vanadium redox flow batteries, offer scalability and long cycle life, making them suitable for grid-scale storage applications.

Let’s take a look at the other technologies for storing energy: 

1. Gravity 

When energy is produced it is used to lift concrete blocks up a tower. When the energy is then needed, the concrete blocks are lowered back down, generating electricity using the pull of gravity. As the raised block is lowered, it releases kinetic energy that can be fed into power grids. The blocks can be stored in modular buildings which can be built in any location, giving it an advantage over hydroelectric storage. 

2. Pumped hydroelectric storage

This proven technology remains the most widely deployed form of grid-scale energy storage globally. It utilises excess electricity to pump water to a higher elevation reservoir during off-peak hours, which is released to generate hydroelectric power during peak demand periods.

3. Compressed air 

While pumped hydro moves water upwards, compressed air energy storage (CAES) involves moving energy underground. Surplus power is used to compress air which is then stored in large chambers underground. This highly pressurised air can later be released, heated and expanded in a turbine to generate power. 

4. Thermal energy storage

Utilising various mediums like molten salt, thermal energy storage traps excess energy in the form of heat, which can be later converted into electricity or used for heating purposes.

Finding solutions to storing energy

Renewable energy storage is the linchpin of a sustainable energy future. 

By effectively storing energy generated from renewable sources, we can unlock the full potential of clean energy technologies, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. 

As we continue to innovate and invest in storage solutions, we move closer to a world powered by renewable energy, where sustainability and prosperity go hand in hand.

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