There is a simple solution: store energy and use it when needed. As the electric car battery market expands and develops, large-volume energy packs – energy storage systems, or ESSs – are being overlooked as a potential solution to this energy crisis. The ESS market, for example, is expected to grow to $500 billion over the next two decades, while the ESS market will not exceed $100 billion, according to Morgan Stanley estimates. The latter is what we need most urgently.
There is no doubt that the excitement of electric cars drove the development of battery technology in general, and thus helped the ESS as well. However, it was not driven by energetic concerns about our energy needs.
ESSs are typically large, fixed power packets that can store excess power from networks and other sources for later use, or when demand is at its peak. As the contribution of renewable energy to energy supplies increases around the world, the ability to store it and use it when people or businesses need it will become even more important.
What is underappreciated about these systems is that they take advantage of all the EV battery development processes such as improved energy density and safety, but don’t have the same problems or limitations. One big problem is size, for example. Electric vehicle batteries should be small, high energy and safe. It was difficult to operate all three factors at the same time. But for ESS, size is not an issue since they don’t need to be placed in a moving vehicle. This reduces one variable.
In addition, the factors that worry electric vehicle buyers about smaller batteries vary: energy density doesn’t matter much, nor does the distance they need to ride the car, or range. Here’s the key: This problem has led manufacturers to push for other formulations that are expensive and difficult to commercially deploy. What matters are charge cycles, battery life, and frequency.
Viable options such as lithium iron phosphate, or LFP, powerpacks, are underestimated. Life cycles and other metrics for constant battery usage are improving. Most of the materials used in this type are plentiful, although prices have increased in recent months. It can operate for several thousand charge and discharge cycles.
All of this means that current technologies have gone far enough to make ESS a reality — even for a few hours a day. Many manufacturers are already aware of the imminent need for such systems, investing billions in building these energy storage systems.
The world’s largest battery company, the contemporary Chinese technology company Amperex, is actively expanding its reach in this field. These products have been sold at six projects in Texas for an independent energy producer.
The looming issue is the initial costs. Analysts often talk about how unsustainable these systems are, but in fact, there are many unknowns to making accurate estimates about the regression of energy storage projects on an industrial scale. Operating expenses will depend on improvements including product quality and the life cycle of power packs – both have come a long way. The bottom line is that the status quo is not sustainable – it is already cracked, and it is time to look for solutions.
But are governments and companies ready to use the ESS and promote adoption? A smart move would be to provide incentives, tax cuts, or consumer education programs to move things forward. Ultimately, initial costs must be cut and that requires talking about something less exciting than electric cars.
China, for example, has been widely disseminating LFP chemistry. As part of its goals to have 30 gigawatts of energy storage systems over the next three years, it plans to cut costs to help companies adopt and deploy these systems. Notably, it will ensure energy security to maintain the heft of the global supply chain. This was not a consideration for many others.
A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on energy storage noted that the current policy focus on short-term decarbonization goals has encouraged both public and private interest in “relatively mature technologies”. This means that markets and money haven’t pushed hard enough on new uses for storage and more efficient use of energy, as they continue to fly under the radar, far from mainstream politics.
Until they focus on the future, we should start worrying more about more blackouts and power shortages as climate change and extreme weather combine to jeopardize energy supplies.
More from Bloomberg Opinion:
• Get ready for even bigger shocks: Javier Blas
• The United States loses the electric car battery race: Anjani Trivedi
• The United States Needs a Strategic Green Energy Reserve: Connor Sen
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Anjani Trivedi is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion covering industrial companies in Asia. Previously, she worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion
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