Is there a better way to store energy other than lithium-ion batteries?
What can store solar power for after dark, doesn’t require lithium and costs three-quarters of a billion dollars?
The answer is deep beneath the ground in California’s San Joaquin Valley — or at least, it will be.
A group of local governments announced Thursday it’s signed a 25-year, $775-million contract to buy power from what would be the world’s largest compressed-air energy storage project. The innovative technology could help California — and other states and nations — transition from planet-warming fossil fuels to renewable energy, without causing blackouts.
“We need a diverse fleet of resources. This new technology is a critical component of that,” said Robert Shaw, chief operating officer at Central Coast Community Energy, which signed the 25-year contract. “That’s how we get to 100% renewables.”
Phasing out coal, oil and natural gas is crucial to curbing the worst effects of global warming — including California’s increasingly intense whiplash between drought and downpour, a reality playing out across the state this week in deadly fashion.
Solar panels and wind turbines are the lowest-cost solutions. But moving beyond fossil fuels for power, heating and transportation will require dealing with the reality that solar and wind work only when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.
Lithium-ion batteries can help. They’re an increasingly crucial tool for keeping the lights on during hot summer evenings.
But lithium prices rose sharply last year, driven in part by surging demand for electric cars. And plans for new lithium mines have spurred opposition from conservationists and Indigenous communities worried about harm to wildlife and sacred sites.
And as useful as lithium-ion batteries have become, they typically provide just a few hours’ worth of electricity storage.
“If you want clean, renewable energy every hour of every day of every month of every year, you need long-duration energy storage,” said Julia Souder, executive director of the Long Duration Energy Storage Council, a trade group.