Batteries have the potential to change the way people around the world live was the theme of two recent articles in New Scientist. Whether you’re an eco-conscious American bent on going “off the grid” or an impoverished citizen of a country with no power infrastructure, cheaper batteries may be the technology that creates a leap of change.
Connect a cheap, efficient battery to solar panels and suddenly power is available (or more abundant) where it previously was not. New Scientist argues in an editorial that a new generation of batteries capable of storing more energy could be the catalyst needed to turn renewables from a marginal energy producer into a source capable of meeting the world’s demands. The opinion piece, citing disparate private and public research labs, justifiably argues for greater coordination in battery research.
A second article by Hal Hodson elucidates some of the issues facing battery technology, describes the present direction and excitement around batteries, and envisions a future inundated with them. Consumers are familiar with the annoying paradox that as our devices develop in their capabilities battery improvements are nullified and we remain enslaved by a constant need to know where our next charge will come from. Hodson also describes how the slow pace of battery improvement has also deeply affected commercial applications.
Power, by definition, needs to be used as soon as it is generated, and so to handle the peaks and valleys of power demand utilities need to use fossil fuels. Sunlight or wind can’t be turned on and off – they’re subject to their own irregular availability. With efficient battery storage options, solar and wind could be made many times more useful.
With efficient battery storage options, solar and wind could be made many times more useful.
Many companies are focused on addressing the issue of grid storage at the utility level, and then of course Tesla and others are working at a consumer level. The future could mean batteries in every home for generation, demand response and emergency applications.
The question is where is the future of battery technology and can it make the vision of widely available renewable energy and cheap energy storage real? Since batteries were invented over 100 years ago, not much has changed. The old stalwart chemistry of the battery industry, lead acid, remains the most common battery in the world because it is cheap and reliable. However, momentum seems to be going towards the lithium ion battery.
In the last five years, the market share of lithium ion compared to other chemistries has more than doubled. In addition to being the de facto choice for consumer electronics, companies like AES and Tesla are betting big on the future of lithium ion as the premier technology. Yet, as Hodson points out, the lithium ion battery is not perfect.
The most notable issue with lithium ion batteries are that they burn extremely hot. Overcharging can lead to thermal runaway, a catastrophic situation that causes batteries to explode and catch fire. Risk or occurrences of thermal runaway have in the past led to the recall of Sony laptops, fire on an empty Boeing Dreamliner, and the replacement of 17,000 batteries in AT&T’s cable cabinets of which at least four exploded before recall. Just recently, the Solar Impulse, the airplane flying around the world, was grounded after its batteries overheated on its Japan to Hawaii trip.
However, these issues just highlight the importance of continuing to develop battery technologies – both improved battery chemistries and improved hardware to maintain those batteries. Batteries will remain crucial in many facets to our lives, and experts agree that a leap in battery technology would enable many of the promises of other modern technologies, and so the work will continue.
Servato offers a solution for backup battery management that extends battery life and allows for advanced remote monitoring. Servato is currently working with companies in the telecom industry to protect Outside Plant sites and ensure connectivity through Active Battery Management.
Check out the original articles in New Scientist:
Hal Hodson, New Scientist, The battery revolution that will let us all be power brokers
New Scientist, Total recharge: Better batteries will help us all