By Greg Michael
An “overnight success” often takes decades of development. Electric lamps had a slow start in the 1880s. It took the Edison Company seven years to grow from 203 customers to 710. By 1900, ten thousand people had electric lights. Ten years later the number reached three million. One hundred years later, technological advances in lithium-ion batteries launched Tesla into a new, all-electric car company.
Significant advances are coming from improvements in existing electrochemical technologies by using new materials. These incremental advances improve battery reliability, longevity, and lower costs.
One of the most promising opportunities for future battery technology is the lithium-air or lithium-oxygen battery, which is predicted to provide three times as much power as lithium-ion batteries.
The unique properties of the lithium-air battery come from thin air.
Traditionally, the electrodes in batteries are made of metal or metal oxides. One electrode is replaced with air that flows in and out of the battery. It is a weightless substance, cutting battery weight in half. The other electrode in the next-gen batteries will be made of near-pure metallic lithium, a lightweight element, reducing more weight.
Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) – a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy presented data at their March 17, 2018, energy summit that states it achieved its breakthrough technology in seven years.
Ellen Williams, ARPA-E’s director, and the spokeswoman said: “I think we have identified some holy grails in batteries.”
Many of the projects incubated by the agency are attracting private sector funding. In fact, Bill Gates and 24 other billionaires have committed to spend $2 billion on energy research.
In April, MGM Resorts announced that it has signed a contract with Invenergy to build a 100 MW solar project in Nevada to power its casinos and resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. The solar farm will be on 640 acres of the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone.
The plant is scheduled to go live by the end of 2020. The goal is to meet 90% of the electricity demand for MGM’s 13 casinos in Las Vegas, including the Mandalay Bay, Circus Circus, Bellagio, Mirage, Aria and MGM Grand resorts. In 2016, MGM completed an 8.3 MW rooftop array.
As solar farms have become commercial successes, battery storage systems developed with ARPA-E’s support are on the verge of transforming America’s electrical grid, a transformation that could unfold within the next five to ten years, according to ARPA-E. New methods for storing electricity for the grid are developing rapidly, but widespread adoption of these technologies requires detailed data about their performance, reliability, and longevity.
ARPA-E improved battery technologies for the grid are about to be tested. The goal of the testing is to quicken the commercialization of electrochemical energy storage systems from design and testing to real-world application.
The most promising developments are with large energy storage systems on the grid, including Community Solar – a leading solar farm firm that generates and supplies power at the utility level. The solar power source is from photovoltaic modules that convert light directly into electricity. This is several degrees different from solar arrays of mirrors, which concentrate solar power to produce steam to generate turbines to produce electricity. There are disadvantages to concentrated solar power systems, including mirror wobble that damages the collection structure, and reported cases of incinerated migratory birds that fly into the concentrated rays. Photovoltaic (PV) systems outnumber concentrators by nearly 40-to-1.
Most of the existing large-scale photovoltaic power stations are owned and operated by independent power producers, but the involvement of community- and utility-owned projects is increasing. To date, almost all have been supported at least in part by regulatory incentives such as tax credits. Success has brought grid parity with legacy fossil fuel systems to many regions.
Most of today’s solar PV farms are owned by independent power producers, but utility-owned projects are rapidly increasing. At the same time, technologies in solar panel efficiencies and durability have grown as fast. Today, Community Solar has massive commercial solar arrays linked and metered to the grid in Minnesota, Michigan, and New York. California leads the nation in advanced solar energy production. Chevron has a business unit focused installing massive solar panel grids on top of roofs of schools and government buildings.