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Many of us are very optimistic about the myriad ways that we may be able to store energy in the future. Why is this crucial? With sufficient energy storage capacity, not only can be be at much less risk when the whims of weather and natural disasters disrupt our production capabilities, but we will much better be able to meet peak energy demands whenever and wherever we need it.

The quick point today is that while advancements in batteries are surely essential for wind and solar to make up any significant portion of our energy mix (due to intermittency problems for the most part) the same is true for nuclear. You see, currently nuclear has a physical limit of how useful it can be for our grid – something like the potential to produce 40% of our electricity. This is too bad as nuclear fuel (with breeding) is virtually unlimited, it produces zero carbon and particulate emissions, and is one of the few energy sources that is scalable over reasonable time scales.

Thus, any improvement in energy storage technology, is not just going to be a boon for wind and solar, but rather it is also going to be a tremendous boon to nuclear. Thus, it is not at all clear to me that in the “race” ‘for the future of energy, that battery innovations will lead to any increase in wind or solar.

2 Responses to “Battery Innovation and the Future of Green Energy”

  1. Michael says:

    Been a while since I last visited; keeping busy with work and family. I was curious about your comment on the limits on nuclear. From what I’ve gathered from other sources there is a notion that nuclear cannot be used to meet peak power needs. Is this your understanding? Having been an ex-reactor operator in the navy, I’ve found it befuddling since we’ve ramped up power very quickly on those reactors (more than enough to qualify as a peaking unit). But there are government limits (not necessarily unwarranted) on how refined the fuel can be on a commercial reactor which may result in a commercial reactor (rather than military) being physically unable to meet peak needs.

    • wintercow20 says:

      Hope your family is doing great!

      I think the degree of peaking ability at large scales may be more of a challenge than for your reactors. The estimates I have come across is that we need to have an ability to peak, on demand, up to 50% beyond baseload generating capacity, and really only coal and natural gas and hydro are capable of doing this right now. Of course, if battery technology improves, then it is pretty evident to me that nuclear moves from a sort of marginal energy source today (well, 20% of american electricity is not marginal, but in discussions of future it is) to the leader. Any storage technology that benefits wind and solar necessarily benefits nuclear. And of course you know that fast-breeder reactors are not employed right now, nor many of the front-line nuclear technologies, so I am not sure the peaking issues are the same with those.

      Hope your family is great!

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