(Reflections on the lunchtime lecture by Arumugam Manthiram)
To move forward to a world that is completely run by renewable sources we face many challenges. The first obvious hurdle is to create electricity in the first place by a method that is as cheap as by using the more traditional fuels of coal, gas, and oil. The less obvious, but perhaps more immediately applicable challenge is to create an inexpensive way to store large amounts of energy.
In developing a storage method the challenge of providing power when the renewable source is not operating, such as when the sun is not shining or when the wind is not blowing, is overcome. The less obvious benefit and need is the ability to produce power producing facilities that only need to meet the average daily amount of power consumed, instead of the peak.
This means energy storage is of great value even now before the dropping price of renewable energy sources lead to their general adoption. By coupling energy storage with current plants, over-sized equipment or peaking plants will not have to be purchased and maintained for the few hours during the day, and in some cases the few hours per year ( like during peak air conditioning season) when they are needed. Additionally, plants can run more efficiently at a constant rate at cruise speed, rather than being run up to 100% to meet peaks.
As Dr. Manthiram stated, “Energy will be one of the greatest challenges facing humanity”. Indeed, energy is what drives humanity forward and has been a great motivator of advancement. By working to make the current imperfect systems better, by adding storage, we can make our energy usage cleaner while working to arrive at the time where we are completely powered by renewable sources.