Okay, so this is both interesting and disturbing:
Germany, which has come to rely heavily on wind and solar power in recent years, is launching more than 20 demonstration projects that involve storing energy by splitting water into hydrogen gas and oxygen. The projects could help establish whether electrolysis, as the technology is known, could address one of the biggest looming challenges for renewable energy—its intermittency.Interesting because of the obvious technological innovation, but depressing because of the implications for energy storage and dealing with global climate change.
Building and operating these kinds of facilities are, obviously, much more complicated than hooking these systems up to batteries and using batteries to store the energy. Obviously, though, battery technology is not at a place where we can use it for mass energy storage. Lead batteries lose energy too rapidly and lithium-ion batteries are expensive and don't have the energy density we would want. There has been some progress, obviously, but nowhere near as much as need. This article claims that cheap car batteries are right around the corner, but it relies almost entirely on comments made by the companies whose continued funding depends upon the existence of said inexpensive car batteries. The veracity of those statements, of course, are subject to debate.
In practice, however, progress on batteries has been agonizingly slow:
Lithium ion batteries, which store more energy at a higher voltage and a lighter weight than earlier types, represent the most recent big jump in battery technology. And that took place nearly a quarter of a century ago.There have been new approaches, such as flow batteries, that offer hope, but nothing so far has been proven out in a commercial environment. Instead, we are left with overpriced Teslas, under-ranged Leafs, and complicated storage systems meant to overcome the limitations of current batteries.
“We need to leapfrog the engineering of making of batteries,” said Lawrence Berkeley National Lab battery scientist Vince Battaglia. “We've got to find the next big thing.”
But none of the 10 experts who talked to The Associated Press said they know what that big thing will be yet, or when it will come.
Global climate change is close to an existential threat to life on Earth. The Pentagon, for example, considers it to be one of the most important drivers of national security planning for the coming century. Removing carbon from our economy is the simplest way to fight climate change, and using renewable energy is the simplest way to remove carbon form our economy. Intermittency and storage are the main barriers to increased use of renewals. And yet we do hardly anything about it.
Between 2009 and 2012, for example, the government committed to about 1.3 billion dollars in research assistance. The US spends about 530 billion per year on the military. It spends about 6 billion a year on Congressional pay and benefits. It spend approximately 4.8 billion a year on oil company subsidies. Instead of treating this issue as the key to national security and economic survival, we treat as rounding error in the military budget and one about 20% as important as contributing to global climate change.
There was a time when when we collectively, through our government, we split the atom and put people on the moon. We used to be a nation capable of great things. Now, we are apparently a nation capable only of the status quo as defined by the loudest lobbyist.