3 Energy Storage Technologies to Keep an Eye On

30 mei 2016

28 May 2016 by Travis Hoium, fool.com

Renewable energy is now one of the lowest-cost sources of electric energy in the world, winning billions of dollars in open bids to provide energy to the grid. But as the renewable sector grows, utilities have to deal with the intermittent nature of its energy production, both on a minute-by-minute basis as well as through seasonal changes. And energy storage will likely play a key role in that adaptation.

Batteries have gotten a lot of the public’s attention, especially after Tesla Motors(NASDAQ:TSLA) Elon Musk introduced the Powerpack and Powerwall last year. But there are a few other technologies that could play a key role in balancing the grid in the future. 

Energy storage from water

There have been dreams in the engineering community for decades about the hydrogen economy. Hydrogen can be made from a relatively simple process of electrolyzing water; when the process is reversed to create usable energy, the byproduct is just water. So it’s a very clean and highly abundant source of energy. 

Itm Power Hfuel London

Image source: ITM Power.

Today, hydrogen is still in the early phases of development for energy storage but it’s making progress. ITM Power has built electrolyzers in the U.K. that are being used to both fuel hydrogen vehicles and send energy to the gas system in what’s called power to gas. Hydrogen is common in natural gas, so the clean fuel is being added to provide cleaner energy to existing customers. But it could also be stored for later use in storage tanks.

Hydrogen could also be getting help from the transportation sector. ITM will be rolling out five hydrogen stations across the U.S. this year in collaboration with Toyota (NYSE:TM), Hyundai (NASDAQOTH:HYMLF), Honda (NYSE:HMC), and Symbio FCell. The automakers have all launched hydrogen-powered vehicles, and the electrolyzer and refueling stations will create the needed infrastructure to keep those vehicles on the road. California is also building an infrastructure of hydrogen refueling stations, although it’s not clear that they’ll be getting energy from clean sources (most hydrogen comes from natural gas). 

The dual use of hydrogen for both grid energy storage and automotive purposes should help drive necessary R&D as well as deployment. That’s supported by the fact Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda have bet on hydrogen beating out batteries as next-generation auto technology.

There are also flexibility advantages for hydrogen. Batteries are good for energy storage on minute or hour timescale, while rail is good for a slightly longer timescale. Hydrogen could be stored for months, moving clean energy created in the summer to winter months, when renewable energy is less abundant. The infrastructure isn’t yet abundantly available, but with the help of the transportation sector, this is a technology investors should keep an eye on.

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