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July 22, 2022

Battery breakthrough could boost sustainability

Sand batteries are the type of long-duration storage needed to scale renewable power generation.

It will surprise few that a new MIT report finds a strong link between developing and deploying new ways to store renewable energy and averting the worst effects of climate change, as this WBUR story notes. Unlike fossil fuels, where upstream capacity doesn’t need to match downstream demand for balancing purposes, renewable power is an intermittent energy source—and storage is critical in maintaining a constant distribution of power.

A recent breakthrough bodes well for the scaling of renewable power generation. Sand batteries, in which silos filled with that material are charged up with the heat from excess solar and wind electricity, have seen much experimentation. Recently, though, a Finnish startup became the first to rig such a battery to a commercial power station. It’s a key step in the mainstreaming of wind and solar energy.

The Cognizant take

Increasing demand from the residential, commercial and industrial sectors “is likely to create huge opportunities for the battery market in coming years,” says Vinitesh Gaurav, a Director of Consulting in Cognizant's Manufacturing, Logistics, Energy & Utilities practice. As demand for renewables continues, he says, we’ll also see long-duration storage become more critical. “We’re preparing for the average duration of systems to increase from the current 30- to 60-minute duration up to four hours or even more,” he says.

Somjyoti Mukherjee, a Director in Cognizant's Energy & Utilities practice, provides this example: “In the recent past, South Australia faced instability in its grid due to excessive solar generation following a huge uptake of renewables. But it now has one of the world’s largest battery-based energy storage systems, powered by Tesla’s utility-scale megapack batteries.”

The lithium-ion battery-based energy storage system, he explains, is relatively able to keep the lights on at homes and businesses while South Australia Power Network deals with issues at the plant and in storage systems.

These storage improvements deserve some of the credit for recent “negative demand events,” in which South Australia actually saw rooftop solar generating more electricity than was required—a first for a gigawatt-scale system.

“With challenges around grid resilience, volatile energy demand and limited flexible-generation capacity, investments are moving from traditional lithium-ion-based fixed-capacity models, to battery energy storage as-a-service,” Gaurav says. “That’s a favorable option for both utilities and investors to accelerate sustainable revenue opportunities that support customer outcomes.”

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