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Science Behind Energy: Electricity Storage

In the latest of our series on the science behind energy we look at the potential that electricity storage has for revolutionising our fuel mix and the influence of renewable energy.

It can sometimes be rather difficult to identify what is ‘good’ renewable energy and what is ‘bad’ renewable energy.

Indeed it very much depends on the perspective taken, onshore wind is either an intermittent eyesore or a precious, realistic and sustainable commodity; biomass is either the perfect substitute for coal, utilising waste wood or it’s a threat to the world’s forests and climate balance.

Amongst all this it is a challenge to confidently identify THE game changing energy source of the future.

Whilst we await nuclear fusion, it is a myriad of different sources and resources that need to drive electricity generation collectively to meet demand. Whether this is old fossil fuel tech, new nuclear or the most sustainable of resources, all have a part to play.

One element however that is not overlooked as such, but sometimes forgotten is the opportunity to store electricity for later use.

The current model is to deliver electricity to meet demand on a use it or lose it basis. This can be externally managed by forecasting demand and matching supply. This, though inherently inefficient, does enable a minimisation of any inefficiencies.

However the prospect of generating energy, from whatever source, whenever it is available and then being able to store that energy for future use could be the real ‘game-changer’.

Energy storage is possible already, but not on a realistically practical basis, the pumped water or compressed air systems enabling subsequent re-generation of the stored energy or even simple batteries, are too costly, too small or too large.

However, the advent of a number of new technologies could bring the reality of generation, storage and demand matching to life in the real world. Taking intermittent generation sources such as wind and solar and turning them into realistic full time energy providers.

  1. The first technology is built around molecules called quinones, which are oxidised derivatives of aromatic compounds. These are exploited through their electrochemistry to create a metal free battery that can integrate with the generation source and release energy as needed.
  2. The second technology uses another set of molecules known as azobenzenes. These have the capability to absorb energy and then release it at a later date. It is the density at which the molecules are contained that has been the trigger to increase their potential storage capacity and which means that in the case of sunlight, solar energy through absorption and redeployment can turn it into an on demand power source.

Whatever your position on renewable energy sources there can be no doubt on two things, firstly they need to play their part in a mature fuel mix and secondly, in their current guise they are intermittent sources and not a direct substitute for nuclear or fossil fuel reliability.

It is this latter point that could potentially be revolutionised by these developments.

An economic and practical solution to electricity storage could be the key to unlocking the renewable future of the planet and turning us onto true energy efficiency.

Who needs nuclear fusion?

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