While we’re incredibly happy that we now have more sustainable and renewable energy options thanks to technologies like solar and wind power, there’s still one huge problem associated with these sources: energy storage. Without an energy storage solution, the energy generated by either solar or wind cannot simply be “plugged in” whenever you need it, because the renewable energy sources are not meant to be perpetual (at least, not in many cases).
Fortunately, scientists and engineers are working hard to find better and more sustainable ways to store energy. Here are some of the reasons why scientists need to find better solutions for storing solar and wind energy:
Reason #1: Solar and Wind Energy Are Not Scalable
With the exception of some very small-scale installations (i.e., rooftop or community solar), solar and wind energy are not scalable. This means that installing more solar panels or wind turbines does not proportionally increase the amount of energy you can generate. Scalability issues aside, the intermittency of solar and wind energy makes them entirely unsuitable for baseload power generation. That is, you can’t simply turn on the sun throughout the day or blow wind across the countryside to provide electricity to society.
Reason #2: The Energy Density of Solar and Wind Energy Is Very Low
Another major problem with solar and wind energy is that, as previously mentioned, they are not scalable. However, even before considering scalability issues, the energy density of solar and wind energy is incredibly low (i.e., in terms of what you get out of each unit of mass compared to traditional power sources).
For example, solar cells are typically quite thin and can only convert a small fraction of the sunlight directly into electricity. Similarly, wind turbines are quite small and can only generate a small amount of electricity. Both of these factors contribute to the low energy density of solar and wind energy. As a result, you have to invest a lot in order to generate a meaningful amount of power.
Reason #3: The Cooling Down Of A Machine Is Not Fun
One of the major downsides of solar and wind energy is that they are generally not easy or convenient to transport. This is especially problematic in the winter, when you need to keep your equipment either outdoors or in a cold garage. The natural tendency, then, is to chuck it, and when this happens you lose all the value you put into the equipment. This is why it’s important to find more efficient ways of storing energy.
This same issue applies to the cooling down of a machine after generating electricity. In this case, the heat is generally wasted, which makes the process quite less efficient. There are ways to mitigate this issue by using heat-pump technology, but they tend to be more expensive and have additional maintenance requirements.
Reason #4: A Backup Plan Is Always A Good Idea
Backup plans are always a good idea, especially in an emergency. We’re often reminded that electricity is vital to our day-to-day lives and that it’s impossible to predict what could happen if the grid goes down (e.g., a tsunami, hurricane, etc.).
The point is that, regardless of how much preparedness you do in terms of buying batteries or generating off-grid, if the grid goes down then your options become very limited. You could run the machines manually, which is dangerous and inefficient, or you could switch to another energy source such as wood or coal.
Renewable energy is great because it is sustainable and doesn’t harm the environment. However, as previously mentioned, it is not without its issues, especially when it comes to energy storage. There is always the option of backtracking to traditional energy sources, but this is something we want to avoid if possible. That is, if we can find a better solution, then why not?