This blog post is interesting in more than one way, because …
- I am going to discuss a topic that is deer to my heart: What do we need to do to get to a better place with respect to a sustainable energy future?
- And I am going to use a new approach: Where I am first going to
articulate my thoughts and then I am going to complement it with a
fireside chat that I had with
chatGPTabout the topics at hand.
Here we go …
These days we talk about sustainability and renewable energy. A lot. And rightfully so. We need to solve this problem. We must.
But a lot of the discussions are just focused on creating the energy (using solar-panels and wind-farms).
I think that solving the problem to have enough energy at any given point in time during the day (e.g. when the sun is not shinning and when the wind is now blowing (at least not where the energy is needed/consumed)) wherever it is needed, whenever it is needed, needs three pillars:
- Create/Produce the energy
- Transport/Distribute the energy
- Store/Buffer the energy
I do not want to call the produce part a solved problem, but we know a lot about it and the research/progress to make it even better looks good.
The other two a less at the forefront of our thinking, but you just have to look at a picture of the hours of sunshine in Europe to see/understand that energy will not get produced equally. Some areas will have more than others and at times so much that it could/should be shipped some place else.
Here is the problem: Our current grids are not up to it!
With our current grid infrastructure transporting/distributing energy over long distances and country boundaries is not effective/efficient. The losses are too high.
But there is hope and there are big dreams.
A couple of years ago Desertec tried to build a large solar power plant in the Sahara and ship the electricity up north through the Mediterranean Sea with/on high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) lines. For now the project is struggling to continue to get/find funding and to overcome political back-pressure, but efforts like this spark the right kind of questions and will power/push the right kind of research: How can we transport/distribute electricity over long distances?
Based on these technologies we could ship solar electricity north during day and wind electricity south during the night.
The last pillar is a weird one. Mainly because I am a software-engineer.
I have build large-scale, high-throughput, distributed, event-based SaaS-backends all my life. And we all know that to make a system like this work you have to decouple the producer and the consumer of the events by means of an event-bus. To ensure that the overall system is available and reliable and resilient it needs to be asynchronous. A glitch in one part of the system needs to be/get dampened by the system, not amplified.
You need buffers and queues.
Right now our grids do not have any (or enough) buffers and queues. More or less electricity needs to get produced the second it gets consumed.
One of the most popular attempts to fix this is pumped hydroelectric energy storage (PHES), where water is pumped up into a reservoir while you have to much power and then use the water to drive turbines when you need it. But that approach has a couple of problems that come with it: Low efficiency, water evaporating (in countries with high temperatures; you can try to mitigate this somehow/a little bit by covering up the water) and the buffer being in the middle of the grid and not at the edge of the grid.
Meet Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G)! It is a new standard that allows electric cars to get charged at home with a home charger, but also power the home (or by extension the grid). Just imagine ten million electric cars plugged in at any given point in time and you specify that by 09:00 in the morning you want 50% charge, but that until then the battery can be used to power the house (the average daily power consumption of an Irish household is ~15 kW/h; the battery of the new Volvo EX90 is ~100 kW/h; means with 50% of the battery capacity you can run the house for 3-4 days) or buffer the grid.
That’s a pretty big battery/buffer.
But it gets even better. So lets say that the solution is to build a next generation super-grid that can transport large amounts of energy with little loss and can tolerate and decouple the fluctuations between the producers and consumers of sustainable energy by means of (levels and layers of) buffer-batteries.
That means you need a lot of batteries (way beyond of what I described above). And big ones. And affordable ones.
And we all know that Li-Ion batteries have (at least) one disadvantage: You need rare earth metals to build them!
So what we need to solve this problem are batteries that have a lot of capacity, are reasonably efficient, not too expensive to build and do not need rare earth metals.
Two more things to consider: They do not need to be light-weight and they do not need to be small (because they will be stationary (e.g. in the basement of your house or in a gym-sized building that powers/buffers a part of a city)).
Luckily right now lots of research goes into solving that problem. One interesting take on this are Organic Flow Batteries. They have a lot of the properties we are looking for to decouple the producers and consumers of energy (in space/by distance and time).
Let’s have a chat …
What battery technologies exist that do not use rare earth metals?
There are several battery technologies that do not rely on rare earth metals, including:
Lead-acid batteries: These are one of the oldest and most widely used types of batteries. They are commonly used in automobiles, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), and stationary backup power systems. They do not contain any rare earth metals.
Lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries: LFP batteries are a type of lithium-ion battery that uses an iron-based cathode instead of cobalt, which is a rare and expensive metal. LFP batteries are known for their high safety, long cycle life, and relatively low cost.
Sodium-ion batteries: Sodium-ion batteries are a newer type of battery that uses sodium ions instead of lithium ions to store energy. Sodium is abundant and inexpensive, which makes these batteries a promising alternative to lithium-ion batteries.
Zinc-based batteries: Zinc-carbon and zinc-air batteries are commonly used in small electronic devices, such as calculators and hearing aids. Zinc is abundant and cheap, which makes these batteries cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
Nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries: Although not as common as they once were, Ni-Cd batteries are still used in some applications, such as emergency lighting and backup power systems. They do contain cadmium, which is a toxic metal, but efforts are being made to recycle and reuse the cadmium to minimize environmental impact.
Flow batteries: Flow batteries are a type of rechargeable battery that uses two tanks of liquid electrolyte to store energy. They are known for their long cycle life and ability to store large amounts of energy, making them a popular choice for stationary energy storage systems. Some types of flow batteries do not contain rare earth metals.
Overall, there are several battery technologies available that do not rely on rare earth metals, each with their own advantages and limitations.
Interesting. Tell me more about flow batteries. What different kinds of flow batteries exist?
Flow batteries are a type of rechargeable battery that uses two tanks of liquid electrolyte to store energy. The electrolytes are pumped through a cell stack, where they undergo a redox reaction to produce electrical energy. Flow batteries are known for their ability to store large amounts of energy and for their long cycle life, making them well-suited for stationary energy storage applications such as power grid management, renewable energy storage, and backup power systems.
There are several different types of flow batteries, including:
Vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFB): VRFBs use vanadium ions in two different oxidation states as the electrolyte. The vanadium ions are dissolved in separate tanks of electrolyte, and when the two electrolytes are pumped through the cell stack, a redox reaction takes place, producing electricity.
Zinc-bromine flow batteries: Zinc-bromine flow batteries use a zinc-bromine electrolyte system. Zinc ions are dissolved in one electrolyte tank, while bromine is dissolved in the other. When the electrolytes are pumped through the cell stack, zinc ions react with bromine to produce electricity.
Iron-chromium flow batteries: Iron-chromium flow batteries use an iron-chromium electrolyte system. Iron ions are dissolved in one electrolyte tank, while chromium ions are dissolved in the other. When the electrolytes are pumped through the cell stack, the two ions react to produce electricity.
Organic flow batteries: Organic flow batteries use organic molecules as the electrolyte. These batteries can be made from renewable materials and are relatively environmentally friendly.
Hybrid flow batteries: Hybrid flow batteries combine different types of electrolytes to achieve better performance and cost-effectiveness.
Each type of flow battery has its own unique characteristics, advantages, and limitations. For example, VRFBs are known for their high efficiency, long cycle life, and low maintenance requirements, while zinc-bromine flow batteries are relatively low cost and have a high energy density. The choice of flow battery depends on the specific application and requirements, such as cost, efficiency, energy density, and safety.
Who is producing and selling organic flow batteries? And who is buying organic flow batteries? How big is the market?
Organic flow batteries are a relatively new technology, and as such, there are currently only a few companies producing and selling them. Some of the companies that are developing and commercializing organic flow batteries include:
Harvard University’s Office of Technology Development has licensed the technology for a metal-free, organic flow battery to a startup called Baseload Renewables. The company is developing the technology for stationary energy storage applications.
ESS Inc., a US-based energy storage company, is developing an organic flow battery for grid-scale applications. The company has raised significant funding and has installed several commercial-scale systems in the US and internationally.
VoltStorage, a German energy storage company, has developed a redox flow battery that uses organic molecules as the electrolyte. The company is targeting residential and commercial energy storage applications in Europe.
As for the market size, it is difficult to estimate the exact size of the organic flow battery market at present. However, the global energy storage market is growing rapidly, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 30% over the past few years. Organic flow batteries are a relatively new entrant into this market, but they have the potential to capture a significant share due to their scalability, high efficiency, and relatively low cost. As the market for renewable energy and grid-scale energy storage continues to grow, the demand for organic flow batteries is expected to increase.
Who is producing and selling organic flow batteries? And who is buying organic flow batteries? How big is the market? - Regenerated response
There are several companies that are producing and selling organic flow batteries, including:
Redflow: This Australian company produces zinc-bromine flow batteries as well as organic flow batteries. Their ZBM2 and ZBM3 batteries use zinc-bromine chemistry, while their LSB (Large Scale Battery) uses organic chemistry.
Sumitomo Electric Industries: This Japanese company produces the vanadium redox flow battery, as well as the all-organic flow battery.
Giner ELX: This US-based company produces the HOGEN™ series of organic flow batteries.
ESS Inc.: This US-based company produces iron flow batteries as well as organic flow batteries. Their Energy Warehouse™ is an organic flow battery that is designed for stationary energy storage applications.
The market for organic flow batteries is still relatively small compared to other types of flow batteries. However, it is growing rapidly, driven by the increasing demand for renewable energy storage and the need for cost-effective and sustainable energy storage solutions. The market for organic flow batteries is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, with some estimates projecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 30% from 2020 to 2027. The market size of organic flow batteries is difficult to estimate precisely due to the limited availability of market data, but it is expected to reach several hundred million dollars by 2027.
Are there any companies in Europe that produce or sell organic flow batteries?
Yes, there are several European companies that produce or sell organic flow batteries, including:
VoltStorage GmbH: This German company produces organic flow batteries for home and business energy storage applications. Their batteries use a patented organic redox flow technology and are designed to be long-lasting, safe, and environmentally friendly.
Elestor BV: This Dutch company produces hydrogen bromine flow batteries as well as organic flow batteries. Their hydrogen bromine flow batteries are designed for large-scale applications, while their organic flow batteries are designed for medium-scale applications.
StorEn Technologies Inc.: This Italian company produces organic flow batteries for residential, commercial, and industrial energy storage applications. Their batteries use a proprietary organic electrolyte and are designed to be high-performance and cost-effective.
Fluidic Energy Europe: This UK-based company produces zinc-air flow batteries as well as organic flow batteries. Their zinc-air flow batteries are designed for off-grid applications, while their organic flow batteries are designed for on-grid applications.
These companies are just a few examples of the European companies that are involved in the development and commercialization of organic flow batteries. The market for organic flow batteries in Europe is growing rapidly, driven by the increasing demand for renewable energy storage and the need for cost-effective and sustainable energy storage solutions.
What is Desertec?
Desertec is a large-scale renewable energy project that aims to harness the abundant solar and wind resources in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East to generate electricity and supply it to Europe and other neighboring regions. The project was first proposed in 2009 by a consortium of European companies, led by the German insurance company Munich Re, and has since gained support from a wide range of stakeholders, including governments, non-governmental organizations, and international financial institutions.
The Desertec project envisions the construction of a network of solar and wind farms in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, with a total capacity of up to 100 GW by 2050. The electricity generated from these renewable sources would be transmitted through a network of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines to supply Europe and other neighboring regions. The project would also involve the construction of energy storage facilities, such as pumped hydroelectric storage and thermal storage, to enable the continuous supply of electricity to the grid.
The main objectives of the Desertec project are to promote the transition to a low-carbon economy, to increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, and to foster regional economic development and integration. The project has the potential to generate significant benefits, such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of new jobs, and the stimulation of technological innovation and knowledge transfer.
While the Desertec project has faced some challenges and setbacks over the years, such as political instability in the region and financing difficulties, it continues to attract interest and support from various stakeholders. The project represents a bold and ambitious vision for the future of renewable energy, and could have a significant impact on the global energy landscape if successfully implemented.
How will Desertec solve the problem to bring the electricity from Africa to Europe?
The Desertec project envisions the construction of a network of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines to transport electricity generated from renewable sources in North Africa and the Middle East to Europe and other neighboring regions. HVDC transmission lines are more efficient than traditional alternating current (AC) transmission lines for long-distance transmission of electricity over land or undersea cables.
The HVDC transmission lines will be used to connect the renewable energy projects in North Africa and the Middle East to the European grid. These transmission lines will be designed to operate at high voltage and low current, which reduces electrical losses during transmission and increases the efficiency of the system. The transmission lines will be designed to withstand harsh desert conditions, such as high temperatures and sandstorms.
To ensure the reliability and security of the transmission system, the Desertec project will involve the installation of advanced control and monitoring systems, which will allow operators to manage the flow of electricity and respond to any disruptions or emergencies that may occur. The project will also involve the construction of energy storage facilities, such as pumped hydroelectric storage and thermal storage, to enable the continuous supply of electricity to the grid.
The Desertec project faces some challenges, such as political instability in the region and financing difficulties. However, if successfully implemented, the project has the potential to generate significant benefits, such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of new jobs, and the stimulation of technological innovation and knowledge transfer.
What are the alternatives to HVDC?
The main alternative to high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission is the use of traditional alternating current (AC) transmission lines. AC transmission lines have been the standard method for transmitting electricity over long distances for many years, and are still widely used today. The advantages of AC transmission include:
Cost: AC transmission lines are generally less expensive to build than HVDC transmission lines.
Compatibility: AC transmission lines are compatible with most existing electrical infrastructure, including transformers and switchgear.
Simplicity: AC transmission lines are simpler to operate and maintain than HVDC transmission lines.
However, AC transmission lines have some limitations when it comes to transmitting electricity over long distances, particularly when transmitting electricity between different regions or countries. Some of the main limitations of AC transmission include:
Electrical losses: AC transmission lines experience higher electrical losses than HVDC transmission lines when transmitting electricity over long distances. This can result in lower efficiency and higher costs.
Grid stability: AC transmission lines can sometimes lead to instability in the electrical grid, particularly when transmitting large amounts of electricity over long distances. This can result in power outages and other disruptions.
Limited capacity: AC transmission lines have limited capacity to transmit large amounts of electricity over long distances. This can limit the amount of renewable energy that can be transmitted from remote locations to areas of high demand.
Overall, while AC transmission lines remain a viable option for transmitting electricity over shorter distances, HVDC transmission lines are generally considered to be a more efficient and reliable option for transmitting electricity over long distances.
How about superconducting lines? Will this work any time soon?
Superconducting transmission lines are a promising technology that could potentially provide a more efficient and reliable alternative to both AC and HVDC transmission lines. Superconducting materials have the unique property of zero electrical resistance when cooled below a certain critical temperature, which allows for the efficient transmission of large amounts of electricity with minimal losses.
Superconducting transmission lines have several potential advantages over traditional transmission technologies, including:
High efficiency: Superconducting transmission lines can transmit electricity with minimal losses, which could result in significant energy savings.
High capacity: Superconducting transmission lines have the potential to transmit large amounts of electricity over long distances, which could help to alleviate grid congestion and enable the integration of large amounts of renewable energy.
Compact design: Superconducting transmission lines are more compact than traditional transmission lines, which could reduce the need for land use and minimize the environmental impact of transmission infrastructure.
However, there are still several technical and economic challenges that need to be addressed before superconducting transmission lines can be widely deployed. One of the main challenges is the need to develop cost-effective and reliable cooling systems to maintain the superconducting materials at the required low temperatures. There are also challenges related to the manufacturing and installation of superconducting cables and the development of suitable insulation materials.
While there has been progress in the development of superconducting transmission technology, it is still in the experimental stage and it is not yet clear when it will become commercially viable. However, given the potential benefits of this technology, there is ongoing research and development in this area, and it is possible that superconducting transmission lines could become a viable option for long-distance transmission of electricity in the future.
What is the V2H standard?
V2H stands for “vehicle-to-home” and refers to a technology that allows electric vehicles to be used as a temporary power source for a home or building. The V2H standard specifies the communication protocol and electrical requirements needed to enable this functionality.
The V2H standard allows electric vehicles to function as a mobile energy storage system, providing backup power during power outages or periods of high demand. When connected to a home or building, the electric vehicle can supply power to the building’s electrical system, powering appliances and other devices. In addition, the V2H standard allows for bidirectional power flow, meaning that the home or building can also supply power back to the electric vehicle when needed, such as during peak demand periods or to charge the vehicle’s battery.
The V2H standard is a Japanese standard that was developed by the CHAdeMO Association, a group of companies that promotes the use of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure. The CHAdeMO Association developed the V2H standard as part of its efforts to promote the use of electric vehicles as a flexible and sustainable source of energy.
The V2H standard has the potential to provide significant benefits, such as improved energy resilience, reduced demand on the electrical grid, and increased use of renewable energy sources. However, the implementation of V2H technology is still in its early stages, and there are challenges related to the availability of compatible electric vehicles, the development of suitable charging infrastructure, and regulatory and policy barriers.
What cars do support V2H today or will support it in the next 12 month?
As of March 2023, there are a few electric vehicles (EVs) that support V2H technology, but availability may vary depending on the country or region. Here are a few examples:
Nissan LEAF: The Nissan LEAF is one of the first EVs to support V2H technology through the CHAdeMO standard. With a suitable inverter, the LEAF can supply power to a home or building, or receive power from the home or building to charge its battery.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is another vehicle that supports V2H technology through the CHAdeMO standard. The vehicle can supply power to a home or building or receive power from the home or building to charge its battery.
Honda e: The Honda e is a compact EV that supports V2H technology through the CCS (Combined Charging System) standard. With a suitable inverter, the Honda e can supply power to a home or building or receive power from the home or building to charge its battery.
Tesla: Tesla has announced plans to support bidirectional charging, which would enable V2H functionality in its vehicles. However, this feature is not yet available, and it is not clear when it will be released.
It is also worth noting that the availability of V2H technology may depend on the specific charging equipment used. For example, not all CHAdeMO or CCS chargers may support V2H functionality, so it is important to check the specifications of the charging equipment before attempting to use V2H technology.
In terms of upcoming vehicles, several manufacturers have announced plans to support V2H technology in the near future. For example, Volkswagen has announced that its upcoming ID.4 electric SUV will support V2H technology through the CCS standard. Other manufacturers, such as Hyundai and Kia, have also expressed interest in supporting V2H technology in their vehicles.
What’s the difference between V2H and V2G?
V2H (vehicle-to-home) and V2G (vehicle-to-grid) are both technologies that enable electric vehicles to provide electricity to external systems, but there are some key differences between the two.
V2H technology allows electric vehicles to supply power to a home or building, typically during power outages or periods of high demand. The vehicle’s battery serves as a backup power source, and the power flows in one direction from the vehicle to the home or building. V2H technology can help to improve the energy resilience of homes and buildings, and it can also help to reduce demand on the electrical grid during peak periods.
On the other hand, V2G technology enables electric vehicles to supply power back to the electrical grid, helping to balance the supply and demand of electricity in real-time. This means that the vehicle’s battery can be used to provide grid services, such as frequency regulation or peak shaving. The power flows in both directions between the vehicle and the electrical grid, and the vehicle may receive compensation for providing these grid services.
While V2H and V2G technologies have some similarities, they serve different purposes and require different technical specifications. For example, V2G requires bidirectional power flow, which is not always supported by all electric vehicles or charging infrastructure. In addition, V2G may require more complex communication and control systems to ensure that the vehicle’s battery is not overused or degraded over time.