Advances in batteries make for a bright future

There has been much talk over the recent decades about renewable energy. Of course this will be important for us one way or another. Whether or not you agree with the scientific consensus on global warming, there is a limited supply of oil and coal, which will eventually render them economically unfeasible. However, an issue that is discussed less frequently is what to do with this renewable energy.

There is much talk about renewable energy creation, whether it be wind power or solar, geothermal or even ocean waves. Yet a problem arises with these sources that doesn’t with gas, coal and even really nuclear energy (though nuclear would be classified as a renewable energy source.) There is a lot of public resistance to this type of energy.

Coal, gas and nuclear energy allow for a near-constant supply. You can burn more oil and coal if needed, and nuclear power is simply built to have a constant output. In this, if the output is not constant that can be a bad thing, actually. However solar and wind power, the two most-thought-of renewable energy sources present a problem with this; they do not represent a constant output.

The wind is not always blowing, and the sun is not always shining on the same portion of Earth, so it is understandable this gap. Yet we consumers demand that electricity be at our hands whenever we wish. No one wants to wait until the morning to turn the TV on or to wait until the wind is blowing to run their refrigerator. So how do we deal with these issues?

The natural thing to do is store the energy that is produced during the hours it is being produced and then use that stored energy when it is needed. This seems simple enough, but the problem is how do we store it? We naturally think of batteries, but these have proven difficult as a way to store the excess energy and so other “natural” batteries have been dreamed up, such as pumping water up into a reservoir when excess energy is produced and then allowing it to run back down when the energy is needed, sort of like a hydro-electric dam, except in this case the water needs to be pumped back to the top.

It may be the case that very soon we will have a solution to this problem. Recent advances have been made in lithium ion batteries that may allow for storage in a traditional battery after all. Even better, researchers have recently made batteries that can charge more quickly; this will help with more than just large-scale storage of course. Cell phone users will surely delight; however, so will electric car users and perhaps this will be great for renewable energy as well. Time will tell if traditional batteries will help us to solve these problems.