Renewables are exploding. Countries around the world are ramping up clean energy generation capacity at a breakneck pace in a race against time to strengthen energy security and defeat climate change. While environmentalists and economists alike have warned for decades that the future of the energy industry – and, indeed, the global economy – lies in renewable energy and not fossil fuels, industry and policy leaders have been slow to adapt. Until now.
The sheer scale and scope of recent shocks to the global economy (Covid-19 and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine) have been devastating to energy markets and consumers’ bank accounts and livelihoods . 26 million people in the UK alone are expected to sink into energy poverty during the winter months, and the result will be even more devastating in the developing world. But there is a silver lining to the current global energy crisis. The crushing magnitude of these shocks proved to be the push the world needed to overcome the enormous inertia and resistance inherent in a stubbornly carbon-based economy.
As a result, many global leaders in both the public and private sectors are seizing the moment to catalyze the green energy agenda. Starting this year, 40% o Forbes 2,000 companies have committed to a net zero goal. That’s double from last year. Meanwhile, two-thirds of EU countries – 18 out of 27 – set new records for solar energy production between May and August of 2022. And according to Statkraft projections, they’re just getting started. Forecasts show that European solar capacity will see an average increase of half 45 GW and 52 GW per year until 2030 – a massive increase from last year’s pre-war projections.
While it’s great news for the planet that the global renewable energy sector is doing great, the decarbonization agenda faces some major growing pains. The additional renewable energy capacity is only worthwhile if the renewable energy infrastructure can keep up. Clean energy isn’t just about wind turbines and solar panels; it’s also about increased network capacity and flexibility. And at the end of the day, the growth of renewables is about energy storage.
Indeed, a net-zero energy future will require a huge 6TWh or energy storage. a new report forecasts that the global off-grid energy storage systems market is expected to grow by $6.22 billion over the period 2022-2026, accelerating at a rate of 7%. The problem is that, at the moment, the renewable energy industry depends heavily on the storage of lithium-ion batteries. This is a problem because these batteries can only hold energy for a few hours and require finite, non-renewable rare-earth elements that will become increasingly scarce in the future. This represents a major geopolitical minefield, as China has a stranglehold on many supply chains of rare earth elements, including lithium.
Due to the major pitfalls of Li-ion batteries, there is currently a race to develop new and better energy storage technologies that are long-term, scalable and environmentally friendly. A lot of money is being invested in finding the best type of battery to power the decarbonization movement, including major incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act.
While there are a litany of promising options for energy storage, one of the most recent developments is also one of the most exciting: the CO2 battery. The Italian-invented battery officially enters the US market thanks to funding from Hawaii and the Bay Area Excellent Elemental, which invests in the dissemination of climate technology. The battery uses only water, carbon dioxide and steel and is efficient, cheap and scalable without geopolitical constraints. According to the Energy Dome battery maker’s website, “the process involves just two thermodynamic transformations: one compression and one expansion. This allows for RTEs above 75%”. This means that the battery can operate efficiently for decades without leaking to the atmosphere.
CO2 batteries may or may not be the future of energy storage, but they are an extremely promising development in a field of almost nothing but extremely promising and exciting developments. The pressing issue now is how quickly such a technology can be adopted at scale to help grow the renewable energy sector quickly and reliably without perpetuating the kind of dependency on volatile energy supply chains that have created the current energy crisis.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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