Matt Ridley: we shouldn’t pin our hopes on battery power. Batteries are no longer boring. Whether catching fire in Samsung Note 7s, being hailed as the answer to future electricity grids thanks to breakthrough chemical innovation, or being manufactured on a gigantic scale in Elon Musk’s gigafactory in Nevada, batteries are box office. And though battery technology is indeed advancing by leaps and bounds, there is a considerable quantity of balderdash being talked about it too. If only we could store electricity! Then we could make it in the summer sun and on windy days, for use on cold winter nights. All right, let’s do a simple calculation. Britain uses about a terawatt-hour of electricity during an average winter day. If we wanted to store just two days’ worth of power, after making almost all transport and heating run on electricity – for that’s the plan, remember – then we would need nearly ten times as many car and lorry batteries as th ere are on the entire planet. (I borrowed this calculation from a similar one for Germany by the physicist Clive Best.) Yes, but we would not use car batteries; we would use bigger units, and more efficient and newer lithium-ion batteries. All right, let’s buy Tesla Powerwalls instead. We would need 160 million of them to cover a day’s consumption, or 3.3 billion to cover a week when we’ve electrified heat and transport too. They retail for $3,000, so that’s about £8 trillion. For a system that would only rarely be needed in full. Maybe we could get a discount. You begin to see why nuclear and gas make sense. But even if you only stored enough juice to turn our existing fleet of wind turbines into reliables – able to provide baseload electricity on demand – the cost would still be huge. The late David MacKay, former chief scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, in his invaluable book Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, reckoned that about a terawatt-hour of storage would be needed to turn 33 gigawatts of wind capacity into a reliable source. That implies that we would need 400 gigawatt-hours of batteries to turn today’s 14GW of wind capacity into 4GW of electricity on demand: which would cost north of £130 billion today.
Times 24th Oct 2016 read more »