Storage is seen by many as the savior of unreliable renewables, yet it would seem that the additional costs of storage, both the initial and perpetual costs, are enormous, and that current technologies aren’t viable.
In 2016, Pacific Gas & Electric reported on an 18-month trial of storage on the grid.
The following details are from T&D website, operated by Penton Information Services:
- “The trial encompassed 6 MW of storage split between two sites, both integrated to function as dispatched by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) that manages operations of the state’s grid and wholesale power market.”
- “The specific storage hardware examined was sodium-sulfur batteries, which are at the high end of the technology maturity scale and the low end of the cost spread for storage options of similar performance, having been used at utility scale in several nations for 25 years.”
- “A 2MW/14MWh sodium-sulfur battery storage array (PG&E’s Vaca site) cost approximately $11 million ($5,500/kW, $783/kWh) to build. The report included two external studies that found that cost of battery storage must come down to about $800/kW to achieve economic break-even.”
Sodium-Sulfer Battery Trial by PG&E
Here are some of the conclusions from the T&D analysis.
- Costs must actually come down to $200 / KW to achieve break-even. This is 27 times below the costs of the trial.
- Actual battery life will be 10 years and storage capacity must be 30 minutes, not 15, as used in the original analysis.
- Energy arbitrage revenues barely covered expenses. Arbitrage consists of selling power when prices are high and storing power when prices are low.
- Frequency regulation is most lucrative use of batteries. However, this requires maintaining the battery at a 50% charge, so as to be available to store or discharge at a moment’s notice. This usage harms the cells and hurts battery life. Revenues barely covered the cost of the asset.
- Dispatcher must know the battery’s state of charge (SOC) at all times if the grid operator is to use batteries successfully. Attaining this for a multitude of batteries is virtually impossible, even with the best of technologies and use of algorithms.
- Parasitic losses complicate dispatch.
- Battery location is dependent on usage, limiting their flexibility. For arbitrage, as defined in item 3, they should be located near the intermittent sources, i.e., wind or solar, but for frequency regulation they should be located near their loads.
- Other battery technologies are inferior to the sodium-sulfer batteries used in the trial.
PG&E reached the following conclusion:
“If revenues from market participation are to be the key driver of evaluating the cost-effectiveness of battery storage, it is recommended to be conservative in the forecasting of those revenues. With California Assembly Bill 2514 and its requirements that utilities procure 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage, California ratepayers could expect to pay billions of dollars for the deployment and operations of these resources.” (Emphasis added.)
Quoting the T&D analysis:
“There has been no breakthrough in electricity storage technology that delivers all the requisite features of high energy density, high power, long life, high roundtrip efficiency, safe handling, and competitive cost.”
Batteries must be replaced every 10 to 20 years, while a natural gas power plant can last for 60 years.
Clearly, batteries of any type are not a viable method for storing electricity. They are not a substitute for fossil fuel power plants.