Next-Gen Battery Storage
A utility in Oregon recently announced the largest wind-solar-storage project in the U.S that will generate nearly 380 MW of energy. This is a good example of how utilities are storing energy from intermittent sources (like wind or solar) in grid-scale batteries. Grid-scale batteries are the perfect match to wind and solar installations, storing energy during peak production and releasing power during nighttime or during periods without wind. As wind and solar becomes more cost-competitive with fossil fuels, grid-scale energy storage will grow as well in order to assure reliable power.
Given the size of the Oregon project, a good question is:
Where will all the batteries come from?
Surprisingly, the answer may be sitting in your driveway right now. An excellent source for future grid-scale storage will be the recycled batteries from electric vehicles (EVs). While today’s EVs are a small fraction of the current market, their market share is growing. And like all batteries, their performance degrades slowly over time meaning that at some point, the battery in every electric vehicle will need an upgrade. (EVs are especially demanding on their battery packs.) But there is still plenty of useful life left in the original battery for other applications. In fact, a “spent” EV battery still has over 80% capacity remaining, and has plenty of additional life for secondary applications such as stationary grid-scale battery storage. The global stockpile of used EV batteries is forecast to grow from 55,000 today to 3.4M in 2025. If each used battery was a 4.4 kWh Prius battery (which is a relatively small EV battery), the available storage capacity in 2025 will be nearly 12 Gigawatt-hours.
In late 2018, Underwriter’s Lab (UL) published the standard UL1974 “Standard for Evaluation for Repurposing Batteries” to assure that EV batteries are safely repurposed. This is definite evidence that the industry as a whole has embraced the idea, and is on-board with safety and quality guidelines.
Repurposing EV batteries will be big business, creating plenty of skilled jobs. This includes engineers and software folks who can recondition the batteries and reprogram the software that manages charging and operation of each EV pack. Other jobs will be created in developing test equipment to assure that batteries from different types of EVs can be combined into a grid-scale battery module. Finally, manufacturing (or more precisely, re-manufacturing) jobs will be needed to assemble individual EV batteries and run quality assurance tests.
For car manufacturers, the large volume of used batteries is a potential problem, but for a forward-looking company, this is a potentially huge new business. Bloomberg estimates the utility scale battery business will see an investment of nearly $70B by 2030. While today’s market is small, the smart company will see this opportunity and begin to invest in people and equipment.
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