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Seb Kennedy's picture
Founding Editor Energy Flux newsletter

I am professional energy journalist, writer and editor who has been chronicling the renewables and fossil fuel energy sectors since 2008.  I am passionate about the energy transition, so much so...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Nov 25, 2020

Think-tank RethinkX has published a provocative report claiming that 100% solar, wind and battery-powered (SWB) systems are will become a commercial reality this decade, and will unleash profound changes not just within the energy industry but throughout the economy and society at large. Systemic disruption will be profound, decimating incumbents and opening up entirely new economic and industrial activity that is inconceivable under the existing fossil fuels-based energy system.

The report claims that 100% SWB systems are not only possible but will turn out to be, by far, the cheapest and most cost-effective means of powering human civilisation into a prosperous 21st century characterised by abundance, equality and an end to rampant resource exploitation that is fuelling climate change.

It is quite utopian in that regard, but the fundamental concept of radical S-shaped disruption seems to hold true when you consider deployment and cost reduction curves of solar, wind and battery tech.

What do you think? Is this complete pie in the sky? Does it overlook constraints e.g. mineral resources needed to manufacture the volume of permanent magnet generators and lithium ion storage envisaged?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 26, 2020

"What do you think? Is this complete pie in the sky? Does it overlook constraints e.g. mineral resources needed to manufacture the volume of permanent magnet generators and lithium ion storage envisaged?"

Since you asked, yes, on all counts. Anyone who believes batteries are capable of powering an electrical grid has no perspective of the scale of both the source and demand involved.

It might be compared to watering your lawn with paper cups filled up at the kitchen sink. Sure, if you had enough cups, and enough patience to refill them again and again, and had a bunch of friends to come over and help, it might be possible. But why?

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Nov 30, 2020

Nice analogy, Bob. I pretty much agree.

A few quibbles: while the scale problems for deployment of the required amount of battery capacity are formidable and underappreciated, I think they could almost be satisfied. If one requires battery storage sufficient for diurnal cycling, we could probably get there. With daily cycling of battery capacity and batteries at $100 per kWh capacity good for 10,000 cycles, the cost of storage adds only a cent or two to the cost of electricity from storage. The amount of storage capacity would actually be less than the amount present in the EV fleet once the majority of vehicles on the road are EVs. V2G (or C2G, where 'C' = charging station) will allow substantial overlap.

The real problem is that diurnal storage isn't enough. It runs out during any multi-day period of adverse weather. If reserve storage to cover periods of adverse weather were built, it would cycle at most a dozen or so times per year. To make such low throughput affordable, the specific cost of storage capacity would need to be only a few dollars per kWh. No existing or reasonably foreseeable batter technology can get anywhere near that.

And then there's the seasonal storage issue ...

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