But this vision is destroyed by the reality that exists for the present and the foreseeable future. The fact is that batteries, even the most advanced technologies being worked on today:
- -cannot supply even an hour's worth of electricity at a time at a large scale,
- -cannot last for reasonable lifetimes under repeated daily charging and discharging cycles,
- -use non-renewable materials and are not easily/cleanly recycled,
- -are outrageously expensive,
- -and have other problems such as difficulty smoothing out rapidly varying production, etc. For instance, a single cloud can wipe out solar production by 60% in 2 minutes.
This does not mean that we should not continue pursuing advanced storage materials and methods. Developments in battery technology are important on so many levels- from the potential to change the landscape in large scale energy generation down to the batteries used in cell phones.
As an example of the current state-of-the-art in battery storage technology, Duke Energy recently implemented a $44 million dollar 36 MW battery backup system for a wind farm in Notrees Texas, thanks to a matching government grant from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). For a sense of scale, 1 MW powers roughly 1,000 homes. It's not a particularly "green" battery, since it is a hazardous lead-acid type. It was promised to provide the 36 MW for 40 minutes at a time, but once implemented it was actually lasting for FIFTEEN MINUTES according to the Department of Energy. It isn't disclosed in the news releases, but the battery is designed for a 5-10 year lifetime. It is probably closer to 3 years in practice. Let's give it the benefit of the doubt of a full 10-year lifetime and a daily 15-minute full 36 MW discharge...
The cost of this electricity comes to over 134 cents/kWh, just for the battery cost alone, not including the cost of generation. This is higher than the residential cost for electricity in any state in the United States, including Hawaii. In fact, it is over 13 times the average U.S. cost, at 9.8 cents/kWh. And, what good does an additional 15 minutes of electricity do on a cloudy, windless day? It doesn't run hospitals, it doesn't keep your fridge cool, it can't supply essential government or business operations. At that cost, why not implement modular nuclear batteries like those proposed by UPower that run 24/7 for 30 years, and are estimated to cost about 22 cents/kWh? Meanwhile, those backup natural gas or coal generators are kicking on and pumping out carbon and other polluting emissions. The saving grace from our renewables ventures is cheap domestic natural gas-- saving our economy from the wide-reaching detrimental effects of expensive energy prices. Maybe the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act should have funded modular nuclear energy.
Given that batteries simply cannot provide a reasonable backup-- either by capacity or by cost measures, now or in any near future-- for wind and solar, why are we rushing to implement "renewables" that currently must require fossil fuel backup? Without storage, renewables are tied to fossil fuels, and that means carbon emissions and pollution. Nuclear is the only way to eliminate emissions and help the environment while being cost-effective and recyclable (see France).