Your five top stories of 2014

Energy Storage Report 2014 review: battery prices, distributed energy storage, the Alstom takeover, vanadium redox flow batteries and energy return on investment. Photo credit: Animam for Energy Storage Report

Energy Storage Report 2014 review: battery prices, distributed energy storage, the Alstom takeover, vanadium redox flow batteries and energy return on investment. Photo credit: Animam for Energy Storage Report

It’s already dimming in the memory. But before 2014 fades out of sight completely, let’s remember this was an important 12 months for energy storage.There was plenty of the usual hype, of course, but also a real sense that energy storage was being taken seriously at last… and some pretty big stories. Of all our headlines over the last 12 months, these are the ones that you were most keen to read.

1. Why you might want to give up this year’s profit

In January we reported on how a handful of battery makers could force an industry showdown by taking a long-term bet on market dominance and lowering prices. And if they did not, there was a good chance automakers might force price reductions anyway.

Our prediction was that the battery market was reaching a tipping point similar to that seen a few years ago in the photovoltaic (PV) solar sector, where one or two players could trigger a wave of consolidation by launching cut-price products.
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Why energy storage is (not) a dead-end industry

Energy storage industry experts respond to the damning report on energy return on investment from IFK Berlin. Photo credit: Airlight Energy, CSP thermal energy storage

Energy storage industry experts respond to the IFK Berlin report on energy return on investment (EROI) for renewable energy. Photo: Airlight Energy, CSP thermal energy storage

Is investment in energy storage worth the effort? Didn’t we find out last week that our industry is going nowhere because of the fundamental constraint of its energy return on investment (EROI)? Perhaps we had better take another look, just to be on the safe side.

First off: let’s not panic. While EROI studies point to a possibly critical problem in relying too heavily on energy storage for renewable power generation, the effects, if real, are presumably only likely to kick in at relatively high levels of penetration.

We are a long way off that yet. Meanwhile, there is the fact that the science around EROI, while apparently robust, is still relatively immature and clearly evolving, as indeed are the technologies and manufacturing processes being described.

This potentially implies uncertainty around current EROI assertions and predictions.

Certainly, most sector professionals consulted by Energy Storage Report had few qualms about dismissing the research: “BS” and “hokum” were among the terms used by knowledgeable industry insiders.

Some observers question the impartiality of parts of the research to date.
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Why energy storage is a dead-end industry

A report by IFK Berlin on the energy return on investment (EROI) of battery energy storage, when used to balance intermittent renewable energy on a grid scale, suggests it may not be viable.

An IFK Berlin report on the energy return on investment (EROI) of battery energy storage suggests it isn’t viable when used to balance intermittent renewable energy. Photo credit: Guto

Could energy storage send us back to the Stone Age? Galling as it may seem to those of us who view storage as the solution to the problem of renewable energy intermittency, and hence the key to a carbon-free future, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests this might indeed be the case.

The studies have nothing to do with energy storage’s main preoccupation at the moment, which is cost. Instead, they deal with a much more fundamental issue: how much energy it takes to be able to store the energy in the first place.

The concept of energy return on investment (EROI, also called energy returned on energy invested) is critical to energy storage because it provides a measure of whether a particular technology might be appropriate for use at scale.

In essence, if it takes more energy to create a given storage mechanism than the mechanism could ever deliver over the course of its life, then the net result of using the technology is that it will cannibalise power rather than return it to the system.
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