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Published - 2022/05/16

Industry & services

Energy storage is the holy grail - but how sustainable are the options?

As the world transitions to decarbonized energy systems, emerging long-duration energy storage technologies will be critical for supporting the widescale deployment of renewable energy sources.

Energy storage is the holy grail - but how sustainable are the options?

If energy intensive businesses and industries, such as steel producers and data centers, are to hit their net-zero targets, they must run their enterprises on renewable energy. But the sun does not always shine, and the wind does not always blow. So long-term energy storage is vital. But most storage assets can only kick in for a few hours and they cannot discharge for weeks at a time.

And fact is that without inexpensive long-duration energy storage, we would never be able to have genuine zero-carbon power. You must have enough storage to last for extensive periods.

While batteries are meeting many of today’s short-term storage needs, they cannot provide long-term storage. Lithium batteries can only keep the electrons flowing for four-to-eight hours and there is not an infinite supply of lithium on earth, not to mention that mining the ore itself is a costly process with significant climate impact. If the production of electric vehicles continues to rise, will we run out of Lithium anytime soon, and what are the consequences if we do?

So called “flow batteries” can release energy for 15 hours, but most flow batteries rely on vanadium, a rare and expensive metal, the vast majority of the world's vanadium is found in China and Russia, and alternatives are short-lived and very toxic.

Another alternative is hydrogen. Solar panels will generate excess electricity which, through electrolysis, is turned into pure hydrogen. That gas is stored in a tank before being piped through a fuel cell. It is a form of long-term energy storage, although the cost of producing “green hydrogen” from clean sources needs to drop significantly before it could become a commonplace practice.

Given that US has a goal of using 100% clean energy by 2035 and becoming carbon-neutral by mid-century, the imperative for developing affordable and reliable long-duration storage has never been greater. While not as ambitious, the EU has set their sights on becoming carbon neutral by 2050. As part of their goal to reach their own carbon neutrality, China is accelerating their plans to more than double their capacity of wind and solar power in just five years (2021-25). This begs the question: how does the future look for energy intensive businesses and industries?

The answer is complex, yet governments, NGO's, your customers and consumers are all demanding climate-smart solutions sooner rather than later. Such solutions require expertise insights from both within and without your value chain.

As experts in qualitative research, analysis and marketing strategy, we can help you:

- to better understand your value chain stakeholders

- to navigate these complex sustainability challenges ahead

- and to best communicate your sustainability ambitions in a straightforward and transparent way

Knowledge explains. Communication changes.

Sources: Forbes, McKinsey, BBC, Sweco, Greentech Media, CarbonBrief

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