Energy Storage: The Necessary Link between Renewable Energy and the Grid

As global warming coupled with resource depletion becomes a greater concern, renewable energies, especially solar and wind, are gaining the spotlight as the ultimate energy source of the future. Currently, as most people are aware, there are limitations to renewable energies that make them less desirable – limitations such as high cost, quantity of generation, and unreliable energy output. The reason that the quantity and reliability of renewable energy generation is important is because the renewables must generate this electricity to be sent to the grid in real time, meaning that the renewables must meet the current demand at any time while the production itself from these is highly variable, as seen in the form of wind power generation in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Wind Power Generation 

All in all, this sheds some light on the inherent issues behind renewable energies. Fortunately, there is the possibility of closing these gaps in energy production through energy storage, mostly electrochemically. The NREL created a report that essentially presented what impacts energy storage would have in regards to renewable electricity generation. The NREL categorizes energy storage into three different classes: power quality, bridging power, and energy management. These three only differ in the amount of time it takes to discharge the energy stored in the devices. Figure 2 shows most of the batteries and storage technologies used for larger energy storage along with their discharge times.


Figure 2. Devices used for large energy storage

Typically, batteries are very expensive for use in any industrial process. The two energy storage techniques with the largest storage capacity, compressed air and pumped hydro, use similar techniques in that they both force air or water to a higher energy level and then run a turbine to get the energy back out of the substance. Both, however, require specific geological scenarios to be effectively economical without having to recreate ideal settings. Notice that neither of these are electrochemical storage devices. Because of the need for energy storage for renewables, NREL has seen a dramatic increase in energy storage research since the 1970s.

One emerging electrochemical storage device that came out of research is something called the liquid battery, created in Dr. Donald Sadoway’s lab at MIT. Sadoway and a post-doc created a company, now known as Ambri, to further research with the hopes of commercialization. As seen in Sadoway’s TED talk, the liquid battery would be made out of common metals, making it economical, and has proven to be scalable to meet energy capacity needs.


Figure 3. The simplified liquid battery

If they can pull this off, it would essentially revolutionize the argument for renewables.

What is your experience with energy storage techniques? Would better energy storage make us turn to renewable energy faster? Could energy storage benefit other industries? Have you ever heard of the Liquid Battery? What do you think the consequences would be if Ambri succeeds in creating an affordable, scalable energy storage device?


9 thoughts on “Energy Storage: The Necessary Link between Renewable Energy and the Grid

  1. klschwartz says:

    I have very little experience with energy storage techniques, but it sounds amazing! I think that if we had a way to store energy there would be a lot more sources for renewable energy around the world. I also think that there would more interest from other industries and maybe even personal homes if there was a way to store the energy. The liquid battery seems to have many positives and negatives surrounding it. I believe the key positives surrounding the liquid battery are that it is cheap and has a high rate for storing energy (Ambri). These will be important in our future when companies are trying to provide energy for the increased number of people in the world. The main problem I have with it is that the “three liquid layers make battery operation sensitive to motion and potentially hazardous should the liquid electrodes touch, leading to a short-circuited cell and rapid heat generation” (Ambri). While I do not believe that the batteries would be moving much after installation it is still concerning that if it was mismanaged there could be a potential problem. All that comes to mind when I think of this is Chernobyl, how it was mismanaged and how it cost some people their lives. I am not saying that this or anything to the Chernobyl extent could happen with the liquid batteries, but I do think it is important that people are well informed of the hazards associated with liquid batteries. That being said, I think that if Ambri succeeds it will be an amazing feat and great for power storage worldwide.

  2. I have never really heard of the idea of storing renewable energy in an attempt to send the energy back to the grid in real time. It wasn’t until just last week that I first heard about ORES, a type of renewable energy storage system. I was completely unaware of this type of system. I think that better energy storage would make renewable energy more attractive and feasible; however, I don’t think oil companies would allow for a smooth transition from nonrenewable fuels to renewable ones even though there are numerous industries that this concept could benefit. These could range from small scale industries to massive ones. I’m not completely sold on the idea, though. After a chemical review of liquid batteries, quite a few disadvantages were presented. Given these drawbacks, I’m unsure that liquid batteries are completely viable. I think if more experiments are conducted and promising results are produced, liquid batteries could curb our dependency on nonrenewable energies.

  3. aliepse says:

    I have not heard about any way to store renewable energy, but I think this new way could be revolutionary! Being able to store this power will definitely give renewable energy another chance to change how we think we need to get out energy. If this storage holds, then cities and states could potentially create a “back up” of storage to use in emergencies, or possibly as a smoother transition to using the renewable energy. According to Ambri the battery “operates silently, is emissions-free and has no moving parts” and uses “higher voltage and lower cost chemistries,” making this more affordable, and easy on the consumer. I know as of now, these battery “Cells are stacked into refrigerator-sized modules which are placed into a 40-foot shipping container.” I’m not sure how large these batteries need to be, but if these could eventually be made for residential areas, homeowners could potentially create their own electricity system (have another solar panels or other renewable source in combination with the battery).

    As far as other industries, I think that if we find a way to effectively store renewables, it might change people’s mind about the new generation of electric and other “green” cars. This is going to cause a major change for our oil companies, which causes some concern. Just as we saw with the EV cars back in the 90’s, there was suspicion that the oil companies had essentially killed the technology, and I fear that might happen again.

  4. wavant says:

    I have always been in favor for renewable energy sources, but my argument has always centered around one main aspect: reliability. With wind and solar power, there is obviously a significant amount of variability associated even today with all the advancements we have. A major component of this variability revolves around the lack of viable energy storage technologies. However, if there was indeed a way to combat its lack of reliability, renewables could be a closer solution. Liquid batteries appear to be a legitimate possibility for a solution to energy storage. I am not very knowledgeable about the steps/processes involved with energy storage techniques so I am not able to comment as much as I would like to over this area.

    Like with any new technology, there is always the unknown factor that needs to be addressed. I know that batteries can be hazardous to the environment if not managed correctly. I am assuming that with these batteries that the same scenario would be considered as well. I tried my best to research any negatives that may come about with this new technology but could not find any prospective ones. Thus, I am not sure if the technology/research has not reached that point, or if in fact, there simply are not that many negatives that may come about from the new battery. I hope it is the latter for the sake of renewables and our future energy needs.

  5. dnlo10 says:

    The liquid battery sounds like it could potentially revolutionize the renewable industry. This is similar to my blog post last week with the problems of storing renewable energy that is generated. I believe that energy storage is the limiting factor that is keeping renewables from be more widely used. The fact is, most renewables are not able to be captured 24 hours a day. If the wind doesn’t blow, you cant get wind energy. That is why storage is necessary. Like I said earlier, the liquid battery sounds like an interesting idea. But the fact is that it is still a battery. Batteries are never good for the environment. The chemicals that are used in these batteries, even if they are common metals, can still harm the environment. Like others have said already, even if the battery is completely safe and a viable energy storage option, I believe that the oil companies will not be in support of this. And as we all know, the oil companies have a lot of power in the US.

    I think that until the liquid battery is proven as an environmentally safe product that can economically store energy, it will probably be written off as another failed attempt to solve the renewable energy problem. I hope that this is not the case, and I hope that we can eventually switch to all renewables as our source of energy. Unfortunately, we have a long road until this happens.

  6. pfc1344 says:

    I do not know much about energy storage technology, but I do think it holds extreme potential in regards to greener and renewable energy. The ability to store power and basically save it for a later use could ultimately change the way the world creates and uses energy. It could be beneficial when shortages occur or as an alternative during low demand hours of the day. If we could harness and store wind energy, hydroelectric power, or other renewables and save them for use later, we could ultimately start phasing out “dirtier” energies like coal and oil.
    Like most others, one of my biggest concerns with this new technology the reliability of the technology. Another huge concern would be its impact on the environment. Batteries are notorious for being hazardous and detrimental to the environment as well as the impact on humans. Several other individuals have already commented on how important it is for the liquids within the battery remain separated. With so many things unanswered, the most important thing that needs to happen in regards to this new technology is research to get these questions answered. Once that happens and the technology proves to be a “good”, reliable, and safe alternative, it could start changing the way energy is produced around the world.

  7. I do not have much experience with these new energy storage devices. I had not heard about hydro and compressed air energy storage until Daniels post last week. I think these new ways to store energy could potentially have major effects on how we look at energy. This battery along with the ORES could possibly speed up our research and shift to renewable energies. Everyday new innovative ways of storing energy are coming to light. One example of these new storage devices is a design by researchers at MIT. This new design harnesses the sun energy, but stores it in chemical form before converting to electricity for use. This means that the energy can be stored for long periods of time without any degradation of the energy. These new innovative ways will potentially change the way we look at harnessing energy. I think that if the Ambri battery makes it to the market, our society will have a drastic change in the way it consumes and stores energy. If this battery can store energy in an effective way, we could possibly change all batteries to be affordable and safe for the environment. These new designs are just one new innovative way in which we can harness and store energy, but further research and innovative ideas must be explored before our society can make positive change in the way we use energy.

  8. kvsims says:

    I don’t have any experience with energy storage beyond the lack of technology in relation to renewable energy. I believe that having the capability to storage energy would be helpful in bridging the gap between nonrenewables and renewables. However, as the post states, energy storage has been researched for over 40 years with little progress. The energy storage technique needs to be reliable as well as economically feasible, which it has yet to be.

    Energy storage could change may industries in the way it impacts renewable energies. However, renewables such as wind and solar are only efficient in certain areas, not all places. Therefore, impacts could be varied. I do not have a comprehensive understanding of the liquid battery. The concept seems ideal but it needs to be effective and reliable. I do not have much faith that Ambri will succeed in both reliability and affordability, if they succeed at all.

  9. kevin1254 says:

    I know that we have not been very good at storing energy thus far. I do believe that advancements in energy storage would result in more interest and use or intermittent resources. I have not heard of the liquid battery, but I do find it fascinating. One problem I see, as there are always problems, is the solid waste side aspect. We would be dealing with even more battery waste. This could be a positive aspect really. We already deal with battery disposal issues, and better batteries could result in further advancements in battery reuse and disposal. These advancements may lead to a growth in the electric car industry. I really hope to see, or even be involved in, the development of newer energy storage technologies such as the liquid battery. Maybe something like this could eventually lead to us being able to capture some energy stored in lightning….maybe. I feel that using compressed air, pumped storage, and flywheels are also viable storage methods where we may see more widespread use at the distribution level.

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