The Biden administration recently named Kelly Speakes-Backman, who previously served as CEO of the national Energy Storage Association (ESA), to the U.S. Department of Energy’s senior leadership team. The appointment highlights the strategic role that energy energy storage companies will play in achieving the global ambition to have a zero-emissions economy by 2050.
In an interview with EE Times, Ron MacDonald, President & CEO, Zinc8 Energy Solutions, told us why energy storage is central to our world’s modern energy ecosystem as it is critical to enable a resilient, efficient, sustainable, and affordable grid. Zinc8 Energy Solutions has developed battery technology that uses zinc and air as fuel and is working with the New York state on various installations. “Our technology resolves the intermittent and unpredictable nature of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar,” said MacDonald.
Energy storage is a critical factor as it can even out the variability of electrical energy and thus the efficiency of the entire system. The key factor in addition to storage capacity is the speed with which they can respond to signals.
Solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources are set to grow dramatically in the coming years, with governments now aiming for ‘net zero’ emissions. As distributed generation becomes more widespread, the grid will need to be increasingly flexible. Storage systems can be the key tools to ensure this, as they allow production to be adjusted to the needs of the grid, avoiding disruptions (such as unstable voltage levels or frequency) due to excess load or generation: this also makes it possible to manage a larger or smaller portion of the grid more flexibly and efficiently.
In order to avoid blackouts, electricity is compensated for by feeding into the grid energy produced by conventional power stations, such as combined cycle power stations, or by more programmable renewables, such as hydro and geothermal. Now it is possible to take the final step with the development of batteries, which can store energy at peak production times (windy or sunny days), preventing it from being lost and power it back into the grid when needed.
Energy storage allows electricity to be saved and offered later, supporting the electricity grid and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Energy storage can complement renewable energy and distributed energy resources by offsetting the need for pollution-emitting power plants. Market Research Future estimates a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the energy storage industry of 20% during the forecast period between 2019 and 2026, resulting in lower costs and increased demand.
The company has patented a rechargeable storage system that efficiently stores energy in the form of zinc particles and contains none of the traditional high-cost materials such as lithium, vanadium, or cobalt. The technology can brag a high energy density (up to over 200 Wh/kg in laboratory experiments) and low production and disposal costs; therefore, it allows for storage at lower prices and can be implemented in a wide range of scalable applications.
The Zinc-Air Flow Battery from Zinc8 Energy Solutions is an energy storage solution designed to serve a wide range of long-duration applications for microgrids and utilities, with a modular architecture that can be sized from 20 kW to the order of megawatts.
With a cost-effective solution for energy storage, clean energy is made reliable and available as required. The system is made up of three main components: the sink regenerator, the fuel storage tank, and the fuel, which takes on sink particles and air to put that electricity.
“If you look at lithium, and various other emerging energy storage technologies, many of them have very complex supply chains, often rare metals that are not in abundance or rely on China or Africa as a major source for the minerals that make up the electrolyte in their battery technologies. So, with this acceleration that is currently happening with demand for energy storage, I think there will be a challenge in terms of supply. Zinc, on the other hand is so abundant, its price is very stable, we don’t have any issues in this regard. You can find zinc everywhere, allowing us to create a domestically sourced battery energy storage solution,” said MacDonald.
New York’s environmental policy, with its Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, aims to decarbonize its electricity sector by 2040. The administration expects energy storage to be vital in the near future, and the bill introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, which includes a target of 3 gigawatts (GW) of storage by 2030, aims to support the transition away from dependence on fossil fuels.
The New York Power Authority (NYPA), a public power organization that serves a good chunk of the US state’s electricity load, has also affirmed its commitment to cost-effective clean energy that could see the NYPA achieve emission-free electricity by 2035.
“We are still working with the New York Power Authority to develop a battery in upstate New York by 2022. It will be the largest system we have ever built that 100 kW, 1.1 megawatt-hours. The pandemic has slowed down some operations but we are well on our way,” said MacDonald.
He added, “the US administration has pledged more than $3 trillion to green our grid. They have also pledged to accelerate the phase-out of the internal combustion engine. And that means an incredible amount of investment opportunities into renewable energy and energy storage. If you look at the amount of renewable energy that would be required to meet their targets, it’s staggering. What you need for this to be economical is not only renewable energy, but also low-cost long-duration energy storage.”
The combination of technological evolution and the development of renewables is a good building block towards the goal of zero emissions, but this is not all that needs to be done. There is no single solution to counteract the effects of climate change. Not only in terms of technology but also culturally. The goal of zero net emissions by 2050 implies complete decarbonization of the economy, including an industrial transition for the most polluting sectors that find it difficult to move away from fossil fuels. This imperative cannot be eliminated, nor can it be achieved without substantial effort, investment, and innovation.
Maurizio holds a Ph.D. in Physics and is a telecommunication engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. He collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronics design.
The article was also published as follows:
Why Energy Storage is Central to Our Modern Energy Ecosystem