If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you know that the mythical transition to an energy future of pure “green” wind and solar electricity faces a gigantic problem of how to provide energy storage of the right type and in sufficient quantity. To make the electrical grid work, the wildly intermittent production of the wind and sun must somehow be turned into a smooth flow of electricity that matches customer demand minute by minute throughout the year. So far, that task has been fulfilled largely by natural gas back-up, which ramps up and down as the sun and wind ramp down and up. But now governments in the U.S., Europe, Canada and elsewhere say they will move to “net zero” carbon emission electricity by some time in the 2030s. Natural gas emits CO2, so “net zero” means that the natural gas must go. The alternative is energy storage of some sort.
Clearly, it is time to start figuring out how much energy storage we’re going to need, and of what type. Indeed, it is well past time to start figuring that out. If our government were even slightly competent, and also serious about “net zero” electricity by 2035, it would by this time have long since put together detailed feasibility and cost studies and demonstration projects showing exactly how this is going to work. Naturally, they don’t have any of that.
So how can this problem be addressed? One approach, discussed multiple times previously on this blog, would be to collect detailed data on hourly electricity usage and also hourly production from existing wind and solar facilities, and use that data to create a spreadsheet that will reveal information like how many gigawatt hours of storage will be needed, how long the energy must be kept in storage, over what period the energy will be discharged, and how much this will likely cost. Examples of such exercises have been reported multiple times previously here, most recently, for example, in this post of January 14, 2022.
But if that’s how you would approach this problem, then you don’t think like a progressive. To get some insights into the progressive approach, we turn as always to the New York Times. The Times has not up to now devoted a lot of its precious time and attention to this energy storage issue, but it so happens that they broached the subject in a substantial article that appeared yesterday on the front page of the business section, headline “Energy Fixes Exist. But They Need Money.” (The online headline is different.). The bylines are Eshe Nelson and Adam Satariano.
You can get the gist from the headline itself. The high status people like Times reporters and government functionaries have decided that the planet must be saved; and they assure us that “fixes exist.” It is now up to someone else to put up the money so that the low status people can do the menial task of working out the details.
The Times articulates the problem as follows:
The problem: how to make wind and solar energy available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even if the sun is not shining or the wind not blowing.
And how do we know that the “fixes exist”?
Solutions are available if given a financial boost, experts said.
Aha! — It’s the usual Times resort to the famous un-named “experts.” None of these experts are either named or quoted in this piece. Nor is there any mention of such issues as how many gigawatt hours of storage might be needed to back up the U.S. grid if powered only by wind and sun (the calculation in the January 14 post came to about 250,000 GWHs), or of how much that might cost, or whether batteries that can do the job can be produced, or are technologically feasible, to store energy for months on end and discharge it over the course of more months. Instead, we learn, for example, about the travails of Jakob Bitner’s battery company, VoltStorage.
VoltStorage needs “significantly” more money to develop its new battery technology, Mr. Bitner said. In 2020 and 2021, the company raised 11 million euros, or $12 million. Now, it is trying to raise up to €40 million more by this summer. “Even though we had great early-stage investors from Germany and Europe that keep supporting us, it becomes very hard to raise the tickets we need right now,” Mr. Bitner said, referring to individual investments.
So if this company and its technology are so promising, why aren’t investors lining up for the chance to put up money? According to the Times, it’s because those stupid venture capitalists have turned their attention to making a quick buck on the latest worthless fads, while the planet suffers.
Venture capitalists, once cheerleaders of green energy, are more infatuated with cryptocurrencies and start-ups that deliver groceries and beer within minutes. Many investors are put off by capital-intensive investments.
Could it be that the smart investors take a look at these proposed new battery technologies and immediately realize that they cannot deliver the necessary storage at affordable cost, or that they cannot meet the tests of being able to store energy for months and discharge over the course of months? Those possibilities are not mentioned here. After all, “experts say” that “solutions are available.”
And what do these “investors” say when confronted about their hesitancy to invest in new energy storage projects? You won’t be surprised:
[I]nvestors say government policy can help them more. Despite climate pledges, the regulations and laws in place haven’t created strong enough incentives for investments in new technologies.
What “government policy”? Well, to start, the government needs to suppress the existing industries that produce the carbon emissions:
Industries like steel and concrete have to be forced to adopt greener methods of production, Mr. Boni, the 360 Capital founder, said.
And as in essentially all Times pieces, it’s only a question of time before we get to the demand for government funds to subsidize the project:
For energy storage . . . and other large-scale projects, the government should expedite permitting, cut taxes and provide matching funds, said Mr. Fadell. . . .
Don’t worry, in New York Times world the government has infinite money.