Last night, Brooklyn SolarWorks hosted climate writer and educator, Ben Jervey, at our office for a discussion on battery technology. Jervey is currently the Climate and Energy Media Fellow at Vermont Law School and is the author of The Electric Battery: Charging Forward to a Low-Carbon Future. Last night his talk focused on how battery technology has developed over time; the low-carbon advantages of renewable-powered batteries; and how different chemistries provide unique services for transportation, electric grid supply, and home security.
Battery Technology over Time:
Despite the new craze, battery technology is actually rather old. Jervey took us on a quick jaunt through history for a bit of background. Invented in the 18th century, the battery was initially invented as a mechanism to aide in electrical circuitry experiments. About a century later, batteries transformed into a method of storing power for different uses with the advancement of dry cell technology. The development of newer, more efficient dry cell batteries has really been the challenge that we’ve met at the present age. Although there are many different types of battery chemistries that exist today; lithium-ion batteries have become the industry leader for today’s large-load, recharging needs. These are the batteries that are most commonly used in houses that are trying to ensure they have a “power backup” for their home.
Electric Batteries as an agent of a Low Carbon Future:
It seems obvious to us, but large scale battery technologies really do have the potential to bridge the gap of reliability that limits the adoption of renewable energy sources on a larger scale. Renewable energy systems that are battery tied have the ability to power a whole communities electric needs, instead of just a portion of that need when the sun is shining or when the wind is blowing. This means that as battery technology scales, the blend of renewable resources available to supply electricity for the nation multiplies… and thus the nation’s CO2 emissions drop respectively.
With a cleaner grid, we can rely more heavily on electricity to power our cars (and other appliances) and not worry that the CO2 emissions associated with electricity generation will negate the positive impact of an EV. Jervey was quick to point out that although a full charge of an electric vehicle is already cleaner than driving a gas-powered vehicle, there’s still quite a bit of potential for improvement in our electric grid to ensure that charging is CO2 emission free.
Fun fact: If the US were to transition completely to a renewable grid and fully electric vehicles we could cut as much as 57% of our CO2 emissions. The other 43% of our emissions come from residential, industrial, and agricultural emissions.
We’re still a ways away from 100% electric transportation, but it’s been hard not to notice the “new wave” of electric vehicles that are currently on the market. Jervey spent a bit of time talking about how developing battery technology in automobiles is quickly shifting how people travel. The battery is often the most expensive component of an electric vehicle. As the technology scales, it’s bound to decrease the cost of the car and drive additional adoption. Proterra electric buses are just one example of the evolving technology that Jervey cited as making transformative changes in EV travel distances and technology.
Grid Storage and Reliability:
Although electric batteries are an enormous aid to renewable energy additions to the grid, there are plenty of applications for batteries in a more traditional (aka fossil fuel-powered) utility. Batteries are capable of storing excess electricity that is produced, offsetting peak demand on plants, and adding flexibility to the energy procurement process for a utility. It’s likely that in the case batteries are adopted by households across the country, the local utility will want to have some sort of control over the charge and discharge of the battery. It’s really up to each region to determine how this mix will occur, but the economic incentives for batteries are really on both sides of the coin here: on behalf of the utility and the customer.
Last but not least, our presentation turned to the benefits of storage for home security and backup power. With solar and batteries, many homes have the potential of being totally self sufficient. They will be able to function during a power outage, power all of their appliances, and maintain their homes operations. Some homeowners may choose to cut out the utility all together or serve as an asset to the utility by storing power that the utility can then selectively discharge when it most needs it. The reality of battery technology in the modern home is starting to be realized around the country.
Following the vibrant presentation from Jervey, our staff spoke briefly to the current obstacles that battery installers in New York City face. Due to restrictions from the FDNY and Department of Buildings it is relatively impossible to permit certain kinds of battery chemistries that are most applicable for home storage and security, particularly for the popular and flexible lithium-ion cells. Our Director of Business Development, Chris Neidl, mentioned that a certain amount of local activism may be necessary to push the city to make way for batteries with a coherent permitting policy.Batteries are without a doubt going to make their way to Brooklyn in force, but we ultimately need some help to make it happen!