Energy storage technologies allow us to take energy from water, sunlight, or other sources, store it and later use it on demand. As costs decrease and new technology emerges, energy storage solutions will continue to expand at a rapid pace. We broke down five energy storage technologies in today’s market and advantages and disadvantages to each.
Thermal Energy Storage (TES)
Let’s start with the basics, what is thermal energy storage (commonly referred to as TES)? TES systems create energy from heating and cooling liquid or solid materials. According to an article in PowerMag, “The most widely used form of TES in the energy production sector is sensible heat storage. In a sensible heat TES system, a liquid or solid storage medium—such as water, molten salts, sand, or rocks—is heated or cooled to store energy”.
TES systems are environmentally friendly and can provide cost-savings around cooling expenses. On the other hand, it is essential to know that they are not easily scalable, states Chris Nelder in his article, “Turn Up the Juice: New Flywheel Raises Hopes for Energy Storage Breakthrough.”
Solar Energy Storage
According to UC Davis, the amount of solar energy that hits the earth in one hour is enough to provide power to the world for an entire year. Panels or Photovoltaic Systems (PV systems) are one way to produce electricity from the sun.
Solar panels are an environmentally friendly energy storage option, and they can continue to generate energy when the sun is not shining by collecting sunlight reserves, which can prove to be a benefit for their users. If solar panels don’t get enough sun during times the sun is shining, they will not be able to generate energy without additional sunlight, because they will not have enough stored energy.
Solar panels can also take up a good deal of space, which can be troublesome for some users and organizations.
Lithium-ion (LI-ION) Battery Storage
One of the more popular battery storage systems is lithium-ion (LI-ION) battery storage. Lithium-ion batteries “control more than 90 percent of the global grid battery storage market,” according to a 2019 fact sheet from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI).
How does a lithium-ion battery store energy? Lithium-ion batteries send charged lithium ions back and forth in a substance consisting of liquid electrolyte, David R. Baker shares in his article, “Why lithium-ion technology is poised to dominate the energy storage future.”
Lithium-ion batteries are a preferred choice over other battery options because they typically last longer, as they have a higher density. They are also a low maintenance option, as stated by Electronics Notes. Lastly, they come in a variety of options to best fit end-use and application.
There are a few disadvantages to lithium-ion battery storage, according to Electronics Notes. Lithium-ion batteries tend to be more expensive than other similar options, and many battery products are still changing their technology. Lastly, Electronics Notes states that “Lithium-ion cells and batteries are not as robust as some other rechargeable technologies. They require protection from being over charged and discharged too far.”
Pumped Hydroelectric Storage (PHES)
Pumped Hydroelectric Storage works by moving water between two reservoirs, each at different levels of elevation. When electricity is needed, water is released from the upper reservoir and sent down through a turbine, creating electricity. If power generation is not required, the water is sent back to the upper reservoir through the turbine.
The National Hydropower Association (NHA) shared that “Pumped storage is one of the most cost-effective utility-scale options for grid energy storage.” Additional benefits of pumped hydroelectric storage systems, as stated by Allison Jensen in her article, “Examining the Pros and Cons of Hydropower,” come from cost. The river water hydropower uses to generate electricity is not going to change in price as the market changes, it produces minimal greenhouse gasses, and since it does not put out any pollutants, it improves the quality of the air.
There are several disadvantages to using pumped hydroelectric storage. According to Jensen, there are fewer spots to build dams and reservoirs in the United States because many of the best places are taken, and systems can be unstable because precipitation levels change yearly. Additionally, it has been known to cause issues for fish who call the rivers home because they can’t get through the dam.
Flywheel Energy Storage (FES)
Flywheel energy storage (FES) works by using electrical energy to spin a mass inside the system, which creates stored energy. When that stored energy is needed, the mass slows, and the stored energy is released.
The benefits of using flywheel energy storage systems include that they have a long life span, are low maintenance, and they have little impact on the environment. They can also go from having no charge to being fully charged in a matter of seconds. Flywheels, according to the ESA, are beneficial to applications that are high in power and low in energy, and those that go through regular cycles because flywheels can go through many cycles without much wear.
Today’s Energy Storage Technologies
We reviewed some of the most popular energy storage technologies on the market, including thermal energy storage (TES), solar energy storage, lithium-ion (LI-ION) battery storage, pumped hydroelectric storage (PHES) and flywheel energy storage (FES).
What energy storage technologies have you seen? What are the advantages and disadvantages of these? We would love to have your feedback!
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