Get Down On It | Big Battery Technology Advances

By April 22, 2021Energy

Happy Earth Day!

Speaking of Elon Musk, yes, it’s true. The recently (self) appointed Technoking, stirs up a fair share of controversy. But as Tesla has helped increase the overall production/demand for lithium-ion batteries, let’s not forget he’s also helping battery tech inch ever closer to the mainstream. This is basic economics. Make more of something and that something gets cheaper to make. Frankly, this is music to our ears. But even though this shift may be textbook, it’s exciting to see how much the price of lithium-ion packs has dropped over the last 10 years. It’s also exciting that these falling prices are allowing other innovations to emerge.

Wiser Times

Back in 2010, a 30w battery pack (typical for an electric car) cost over $35,000. But, according to Paul Cain of WTTW News, by 2019 the cost of that same 30w pack had plummeted to below $5,000.Now in 2021, as prices continue to drop, lithium-ion batteries that cost $100 per kilowatt-hour to produce looks to be our “holy grail.” Because it’s at this magical number that electric vehicles could comparably be priced to their gasoline and diesel-powered counterparts. 

This inflection point could then swing the door to EV mass adoption wide open. Even better? Government subsidies and tax credits introduced at this point could knock the door off its hinges.

Granted, this isn’t a linear drop in price over time. Every year it becomes trickier to squeeze a bit more out of lithium-ion chemistry and/or the materials used to create the packs themselves. And there is a theoretical wall to be hit out there where we’ll find it impossible to make lithium-ion better (or simply too cost-prohibitive to do so).

Good news though, as said wall is not standing in the way of our holy grail. In fact, battery pack costs in the states could hit $100 per kWh in the next two years. In fact, we could be looking at $58 per kWh by 2030.

But vehicles aren’t the only beneficiary of this big battery boom. As prices fall, it’s also getting easier to help our electrical grids go green.

California Dreamin’

As battery production costs plunge, major “grid-scale” battery projects are underway across the U.S. For instance, a decommissioned electric power station in California is now home to two mammoth lithium-ion batteries, 300 and 100 megawatts respectively. When fully online, these two titans will store enough energy to power 300,000 California homes for four hours, be that when demand is greater than supply, or during blackouts. This facility will soon be joined by others in San Diego, San Francisco, and Long Beach (among others) to establish California as the leader in high-capacity battery stations. As top dog, the Golden State will provide 1.2 gigawatts of the storage being established this year alone in the United States. A great start, yes, but work still needs to be done to enjoy true efficiencies of scale. 

As Cheryl Katz notes in her piece for Yale Environment 360:

“While energy storage is thriving in high-value markets, such as California, battery prices still need to come down more to reach large-scale global deployment. In the U.S., proponents hope the incoming Biden administration will pursue more favorable energy policies, including extending the Investment Tax Credit — which ramps down to 10 percent for commercial solar systems and ends for residential solar in 2022 — and expanding the benefit to stand-alone storage.”

And, if this wasn’t reason enough to keep Federal support for clean energy (battery tech especially) from winding down, there’s another major development to catch wind of.  

Will it Go Round in Circles?

As if there wasn’t enough epic clean tech news swirling around, off-shore wind farm projects are also picking up speed. For instance, by 2024 Ocean Wind, a major wind farm project will go live 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. 

The state’s first foray into off-shore clean energy, Ocean Wind’s massive Halide-X turbines sporting blades 351 feet in diameter (rotating 853 feet above the waves) will each provide enough energy to power 16,000 homes. There are benefits to going big (much as we noted in California) as fewer turbines are required per location the larger they are. And Ocean Wind turbines will go on to contribute to an estimated 61 gigawatts of power that will be generated by off-shore wind turbines worldwide by 2025. But epic size alone isn’t enough to outgrow one of wind power’s long-standing criticisms. Namely, nowhere does the wind blow 24/7, 365. But here again, the increasing availability of bigger, cheaper, better batteries is already having an impact. 

Chandu Visweswariah writing for Greentech Media breaks down the idea of hybrid power plants, and how ample data shows the combination of different types of clean energy tech and storage capabilities under one roof (so to speak) show promise of freeing us from the shackles of coal-fueled energy. But if the promise is so apparent, Chandu posits, where are all the hybrid plants? Chandu’s theory brings us back to something that’s looming right over the horizon:

“We fear that in many regions around the world, current government incentives for renewable energy investment, established well before the emergence of utility-scale battery storage, may be distorting this growing market. For example, in the United States the Investment Tax Credit for solar power includes investment in battery storage, while the Production Tax Credit for wind does not.”

He continues:

“Globally, we need to ensure that subsidies and credits do not introduce perversities or impediments to true progress; they should encourage investment in the application of storage but not favor specific technology or design choices.”

Yes. This is absolutely correct. 

Here on this Earth Day, you and I and every single body on this planet need to start thinking about ways we can work to keep the roads (and the fields, and the oceans) cleared for true progress. 

We’re finally experiencing some real momentum with regards to cleantech. And it’s exciting to work with people like Rich and the gang, who are tinkering away in the garage in an effort to help real change happen. 

But for the rest of us, especially folks like me who aren’t as handy with ratchet extenders and model view controller panels, let’s find ways to pitch in, too. 

One easy way is to make sure your voice is heard when it comes to supporting green tax credits and subsidies. Here in the states, make sure you contact your state representatives

But if you have other ways to pitch in and support progress, make sure to let us know.

(Let’s keep the music going…)