Job one for ARPA-E is solving the nation’s energy problems. And high on the list of desperately needed tech is grid storage. “By investing in the development of grid-scale energy storage technology,” says an ARPA-E press release today, “this funding opportunity will allow the U.S. to assume global technology and manufacturing leadership in the emerging and potentially massive global market for stationary electricity storage infrastructure.”
Sun power and wind power hold enormous potential for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, but only if some economical way can be found to use their power when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. There are also vast fortunes to be made, if this problem can be solved. Said IDC Energy Insights analyst Sam Jaffe in a recent podcast:
For instance, in Hawaii right now, there’s been a large buildout of photovoltaic—still in the single percentage points of overall electricity generated—but it’s causing a significant strain on a local utility. The local utility is now saying ‘we cannot take any more distributed photovoltaic without some sort of storage and storage management system to avoid hurting our distribution system.’ And that’s in the single percentage points.
Ordinary lead acid batteries won’t cut it for large scale storage, and more advanced lithium-ion batteries, like those in laptops, are too expensive. Very likely no single solution will do the job, but rather a hybrid approach. Some contenders for grid-scale storage include liquid metal batteries (already getting ARPA-E money) and flywheels.