This is part 1 of our Why Buy Big Batteries Better? series.
As the proportion of variable renewable energy increases in the electricity generation mix, the gap between when electricity can be generated and when electricity is needed increases. https://www.ren21.net/reports/global-status-report/Source:
In 2020, the percentage of solar and wind electricity generation in the world was around 5 %. By 2030, the estimate is 15 % and by 2050, the estimate is 50 %. Source: https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Apr/Global-Renewables-Outlook-2020.
At the same time, total electricity generation will increase by 50 % from 20,000 TWh to 30,000 TWh, partly due to the increase in global population and the economic development of countries, but also the electrification of transport and other industries.
The growth in total electricity is also driven by energy for transport. About half of all energy supplied to the world is provided by oil and gas used for transportation. Increased numbers of electric and hydrogen vehicles are expected to drive the demand for renewable electricity.
Source: https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics viewed April, 2021. International Energy Agency. “WORLD ENERGY BALANCES: DATABASE DOCUMENTATION,” 2020.
The problem is getting bigger and coming fast.
Electricity infrastructure is not like a balloon i.e. it can’t stretch and shrink when supply and demand are not equal. The electricity supply (from generators) must equal electricity demand (from consumers like facilities, businesses, and homes).
If supply and demand don’t match, the frequency of the electricity in a network becomes unstable, and infrastructure will shut down in order to avoid damage to equipment, overheating and even fires.
This is how major electricity outages occur. An unexpected event (or series of events) in the electricity network occurs, and supply cannot increase or demand cannot decrease fast enough to stabilize the frequency. Lights out.
What’s the role of Big Batteries? They can respond quickly, called fast frequency response, to short term fluctuations of supply and demand. They can’t solve all the problems yet. Inertia from large spinning generators like hydro, coal and gas plants are still needed. As the proportion of renewables in electricity generation increases, more and more fast frequency response will be needed to compensate for less inertia.
We all need secure and reliable energy. Our modern world is built on it. Our hospitals need the lights on. Our water infrastructure needs electricity to pump water to our homes. Our communications networks need electricity for us to stay connected. Our refrigerator needs electricity to store our food. And soon transport and logistics will become electrified too.
And we need to act fast to mitigate the effects of climate change. If you want to see how climate change has impacted the world since you were born, check out this awesome article: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-06/how-climate-change-has-impacted-your-life/11766018?nw=0.
The world is moving rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable energy. And we need to do it quickly. But secure and reliable electricity is the basis of most economies. In order to manage the variability of solar and wind energy, we need energy storage.
But the future won’t be like the past where a single energy technology (coal-fired power plants) dominates all others. The future of energy will be a portfolio of technologies, distributed and decentralized, and that includes energy storage.
So to keep the energy transition going, we need more energy storage (and other system infrastructure), and we need to get the knowledge about emerging technologies from the experts to the people deploying it.