Certain industrial advancements and negative consequences of human actions during the past couple of hundred years have resulted in a series of aftermaths, and climate change tops that list. With the increasing human population of the world, the need for energy has skyrocketed, resulting in an energy supply chain that gives less thoughts about sustainability, and more about covering the energy demand. In the recent past, the increase in natural gas prices has made significant changes in the household and industrial energy usage patterns. The World Energy Outlook special report 2022 suggests that the annual natural gas demand growth will reduce by 0.4% and demand for coal will reduce by 9% from its current rate by 2030.1 Along with these transitions, the usage of green energy sources that are already in place, will start to flourish, mainly due to cheap costs and the sustainability factor.
Green energy is harnessed from energy sources that have the least amount of environmental impact and a low carbon footprint. The production of green energy doesn’t release toxic greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and causes little or no environmental impact. The European Union aims to reach a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To reach this milestone, there must be a drastic transition to green energy sources. A major obstacle in switching to green energy sources is energy storage. Green energy sources are heavily dependent on weather conditions and therefore the energy output from these sources is inconsistent. This is known as the “grid level energy storage problem”. Storing energy efficiently can become costly and can result in many environmental impacts if innovative and sustainable solutions are not followed. Due to this reason, storing green energy using sustainable methods has become a topic of great interest.2
Innovative solutions for the energy storage problem
In a time of geopolitical instability, finding feasible options for green energy storage will have a positive impact on many nations. The entrance of renewable energy reduces the influence of oil and gas exporters in global politics, and countries with developing economies can reduce their dependence on oil producing countries. The currently available storage methods for green energy fall under four categories: electro-chemical, chemical, thermal, and mechanical. The execution of energy storing technologies is a cyclic process that includes several steps from idea creation, R&D to the final implementation. Different energy storing methods that belong to the four technology categories that were discussed above, are at different stages in this technology cycle – some technologies are still in the idea level whereas some have been successfully implemented as pilot projects. Certain technologies such as lithium-ion batteries, pumped storage hydro, and some thermal storage options have been available for some time and the technology is at the deployment stage. But novel technologies such as generating Hydrogen as a chemical storage method is still in the R&D phase.3
The need for long duration energy storage (LDES) options have become a necessity that comes along with switching towards green energy options. Advancements in long duration storage options will help to establish wide scale deployment of green energy sources. LDES options are available at different levels of market readiness and there is much interest towards these technologies from governments, investors, and scientists alike. The ability to store energy for long periods of time creates a balance in the power system, making it more stable. This is especially applicable when utilizing renewable energy sources during seasonal weather changes. However, before embracing these technologies you should evaluate all available storage options, understand your energy requirements, and space options as well as be aware about the policies associated with these energy storage options.4
Available technologies and trending material for energy storage.
Recently, novel technological advancements have contributed to the development of many energy storage options. When it comes to electro-chemical energy storage, Lithium-ion batteries are the most economically viable energy storage solution but there are other battery options that are currently under development. Flow batteries consist of rechargeable fuel cells that produce chemical energy using two chemical components dissolved in liquids contained within the system and separated by a membrane. Compressed air energy storage (CAES) is another emerging technology used for energy storage. In this method, excess power is used to compress air, which is then stored in large chambers. The compressed air can be released and passed through an air turbine to generate electricity as required.5,6
Gravity energy storage devices use surplus solar energy to lift large objects against the gravitational pull, while storing potential energy in the process. When the objects are lowered, potential energy is converted into electricity. Gravity energy storage offers a promising solution as a grid-scale energy storage option as it facilitates high capacity and long duration storage.7 Flywheel systems are another mechanical method of storing energy. A flywheel system stores energy mechanically in the form of kinetic energy by spinning a mass at high speed. Solar thermal energy storage is a novel strategy that uses molten salts or phase-change materials in high-temperature thermal storage systems to collect and store solar heat, which can then be used to power steam turbines to produce electricity. Hydrogen production is a chemical energy storage method that is not widely adopted at present and is used in small scale storage applications. It is directly produced from electricity in a single step and consumed either as a fuel to produce power or as a feedstock or heat source for other industrial processes.8
Apart from these, electrochemical supercapacitors and proton-exchange membrane fuel cells are some energy storage options that are implemented in many industries. Energy storage is currently one of the key research areas of JKR, and R&D for novel materials is always in process. The graphene-collagen composite material by JKR, which can be transformed into a supercapacitor electrode, which can be read here, is an example of such technology. The world is rapidly shifting towards green and clean energy sources. The sustainability and the efficiency of these sources depend on adequate energy storage methods. The technological advancement and innovations that support these novel causes should also be backed by education, awareness and adherence to policies that protect the planet. The continuous development of sustainable and ethical technology will result in efficient green energy storing options, taking us towards a greener Earth, one step at a time.
- Iea (no date) Outlook for energy demand – world energy outlook 2022 – analysis, IEA. Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2022/outlook-for-energy-demand (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
- (No date) Renewable energy in the EU – european parliament. Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2023/745693/EPRS_ATA(2023)745693_EN.pdf (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
- The Future of Energy Storage (2022) Main. Available at: https://energy.mit.edu/research/future-of-energy-storage/ (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
- Net-zero power: Long-duration energy storage for a renewable grid (2021) McKinsey & Company. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/sustainability/our-insights/net-zero-power-long-duration-energy-storage-for-a-renewable-grid (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
- Battery storage: Your questions answered (no date) National Grid Group. Available at: https://www.nationalgrid.com/stories/energy-explained/what-is-battery-storage (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
- Energy Storage Technologies for a renewable energy future (2023) altE DIY Solar Blog. Available at: https://www.altestore.com/blog/2023/01/energy-storage-technologies/ (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
- Gupta, M. (2023) Explained: Storage solutions – innovations and breakthroughs in overcoming technical challenges for solar energy storage, SolarQuarter. Available at: https://solarquarter.com/2023/08/04/explained-storage-solutions-innovations-and-breakthroughs-in-overcoming-technical-challenges-for-solar-energy-storage/#:~:text=Instead%20of%20turning%20the%20heat,steam%20turbines%20to%20produce%20electricity. (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
- Report: Beyond the tipping point: Future energy storage (2023) Sweco Group. Available at: https://www.swecogroup.com/urban-insight/energy/report-beyond-the-tipping-point-future-energy-storage/#:~:text=Energy%20storage%20has%20been%20identified,of%20speeding%20up%20the%20process. (Accessed: 18 October 2023).