Batteries best for cheap energy storage

Tuesday, 15 January, 2019

Batteries best for cheap energy storage

Lithium-ion batteries are predicted to be the cheapest technology for storing electricity by 2050. This is according to a model developed by researchers at Imperial College London, which calculated the lifetime costs of nine electricity storage technologies for 12 different applications between 2015 and 2050.

The researchers stated that previous studies on electricity storage focus on investment cost, and “the future lifetime cost of different technologies (ie, levelised cost of storage) that account for all relevant cost and performance parameters are still unexplored”.

“We have found that lithium-ion batteries are following in the footsteps of crystalline silicon solar panels,” said senior author Iain Staffell, a lecturer at the college’s Centre for Environmental Policy. “Lithium-ion batteries were once expensive and suited only to niche applications, but they are now being manufactured in such volumes, their costs are coming down much faster than the competing storage technologies.”

Lowest lifetime costs will fall by 36% by 2030 and 53% by 2050 across the 12 applications, according to the model, which incorporates data from more than 30 peer-reviewed studies.

The cheapest energy storage mechanism is currently pumped-storage hydroelectricity, where water is pumped to a higher elevation with spare energy, then released to harvest the energy when needed. However, as time progresses, pumped-storage hydroelectricity costs do not decrease, whereas lithium-ion battery costs come down, making them the most competitive in the majority of applications from 2030. For long discharge applications, pumped hydro, compressed air and hydrogen were the cheapest, the model found.

This visual abstract depicts an analysis of nine energy storage technologies between 2015 and 2050. Credit: Schmidt et al./Joule.

First author Oliver Schmidt, PhD researcher at Imperial, said: “I was always quite sceptical toward lithium-ion storage for stationary applications, but when it comes to the levelised cost of storage — investment, operation and charging cost, technology lifetime, efficiency and performance degradation — lithium-ion combines decreasing cost with sufficient performance to dominate the majority of power system applications. I would have expected others to outperform in certain applications.”

While it does not say anything about whether lithium-ion batteries are the best suited technology for stationary storage, Schmidt said the model is likely to be the cheapest option in the immediate future because it has a head start in the market. The researchers also pointed out that the model cannot predict how new materials or advances will impact the market.

The open access model may affect research strategies for storage, the researchers said, and it could also help industry and policymakers make informed investment decisions.

The research was published in the journal Joule.

Image credit: ©

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