Energy storage holds much promise in unlocking the next phase of the energy transition and solving the intermittency challenge. The energy storage industry ranges from mature, well-established technologies such as lithium-ion batteries, to transformative technologies that fall earlier on the innovation and adoption curve. Different contexts demand different technological approaches. Some technologies are better suited to stand-alone energy storage projects, others to co-located projects (e.g. solar + storage) and still others may be more appropriate for “behind the meter” projects for industrial operations.
While one of the most critical jobs for energy storage is to address the variability of generation associated with wind and solar-powered electricity, this is not the only job. Energy storage and battery energy storage systems can provide other valuable benefits as well, ranging from providing ancillary services (e.g. frequency response), enhancing system resiliency without the need for costly transmission upgrades, and addressing peak demand at a lower cost than constructing new generation.
Prominent energy storage technologies in the market include the following:
Pumped Hydro Storage
Pumped hydro is a mature technology, and is also the most widely-installed type of energy storage. In the typical pumped hydro project, water is pumped uphill using electrical pumps when energy demand is low. That water is stored in a reservoir until it is needed. When energy is needed, the stored water is released through turbines, generating electricity.
Mechanical storage takes a number of different forms. Some projects use cheap electricity to spin up flywheels, storing rotational energy until it is needed. Other types of mechanical storage rely on technologies such as compressed air, running electrical compressors while electricity is readily available and then releasing the compressed air through turbines when it is not.
Fewer than 10 years ago, it wasn’t clear that large-scale batteries were going to play a vital role in decarbonization, but the technology has evolved to the point where battery electric storage is now the most promising path toward large-scale and ubiquitous energy storage.
Battery technology continues to evolve rapidly. Different lithium-ion battery chemistries are emerging that are more appropriate for stationary, utility-scale installations, while other more exotic battery chemistries are on the horizon. Emerging technologies, such as flow batteries, which pump liquid materials that interact across a membrane, also hold promise. Although flow batteries typically are less energy-dense than solid-state batteries, they can hold a charge for longer, with reduced risk of degradation over time.
Chemical Storage/Fuel Cells
To augment the electrification of transportation, many sectors are turning to fuel cells that convert chemical energy, often using hydrogen as a feedstock fuel source, into electricity. While the basic operation of fuels cells are the same, specialty fuels cells have been developed to take advantage of varying applications.
Fuel cell applications go well beyond vehicles being purchased by the general public. Operations such as urban deliveries and logistics fleets, transit buses, heavy duty and semi trailer trucks, stationary power systems and diesel generator replacements, construction, mining, off-grid equipment, materials handling (warehousing) and marine, all have fleets suited to fuel cell applications.
Fuel cell applications can, and will, be far reaching, as governments and private industry grapple with a carbon neutral economy.
Mining and Minerals
As a leading Mining and Minerals practice, we have significant experience advising right across the Energy Storage and Batteries value chain including:
- Upstream critical minerals
- Battery metals mining projects
- Offtake contracts
- Innovative funding structures
- Downstream energy storage
- Battery projects.
As the world embraces the electrification of transportation as one spoke in the supply mix to reach net-zero emission targets, the number of lithium-ion batteries across the globe will dramatically increase. At the end of the batteries life cycle, managing the waste material will become a significant issue.
New technologies, such as high performance lithium-ion battery recycling plants, will be developed. It is anticipated that up to 95% of lithium-ion battery components will be recyclable with the output being used as a feedstock to create new rechargeable batteries.