ARE LITHIUM ION BATTERIES REALLY THE ‘SILVER BULLET’ FOR ENERGY STORAGE?

As the energy storage industry steams ahead in the deployment of lithium ion batteries, Tom Campbell, Business Unit General Manager of Connections at Omexom UK & RoI, asks whether we are ignoring the potential of other energy storage technologies.

Lithium ion batteries are often seen today as a catch-all solution to energy storage – from powering our mobile phones and electric cars to balancing and regulating the electricity supply network. Vast sums of money are poured into their development, and the investment is paying off – performance is improving at the same rate that cost is decreasing.

Yet no matter what we do, as they go through the charge-discharge-charge cycle, they will degrade over time – it’s inherent in their nature.

This degradation is something, I’m sure, we’ve all experienced with our mobile phones. When new, the phone battery retains its charge but after 6-12 months, it begins to deplete quickly until it needs replacing entirely. It’s not too inconvenient if you upgrade your phone to a new model every two years but it’s not environmentally sustainable nor is it ideal in industrial applications.

The performance of lithium ion batteries is also severely impacted by extremes of temperature, with an optimum of 25o C, which isn’t always easy to maintain. In addition, for the higher energy density cells, if they are damaged or incorrectly charged, there is a risk of fire or even explosion.

The right technology for the right application

The portability of batteries is precisely what makes them perfect for phones and gadgets. However, we don’t need those particular characteristics for static grid-scale applications like storing excess energy generated by solar farms, providing a source of back-up power for factories or regulating grid system frequency. So, we shouldn’t ignore alternatives that may have a longer lifespan, are less of a fire risk, and are just better suited to these kinds of applications. Redox flow batteries are a good example, as they provide an economical, low vulnerability means to store energy at grid level.

At VINCI Energies, we have successfully installed, through our Omexom brand, lithium ion battery storage facilities as a primary reserve for several happy energy transmission customers but we’re still investigating other technologies, including thermal storage, compressed air energy (CAES), pumped hydro-electric storage, kinetic energy  and hydrogen fuel cells.

Delivering the best possible solution for our customers’ individual applications in the energy transition is a high priority for us but it is only by continuing to innovate that we can do so.

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