Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Renewable Energy - How Is It Stored?

Renewable energies such as wind and solar energy has been around for decades.  Many predicted that it would supply most of the nation’s energy by now.  However, renewable energy only accounts for approximately 10% of the nation’s energy consumption.  This is a far cry from a majority.  Fossil fuels still accounted for over 80% of US consumption in 2014 according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.  There are several reasons renewable energy has yet to take a bigger piece of the U.S. energy pie.  Political opposition and costs are certainly factors that have hampered expanded usage of renewable energy sources.    However, there is another reason that many people might not even know is a problem that requires a solution.  That problem is, when renewable sources are not producing, such as when the sun doesn’t shine for solar energy and when the wind isn’t blowing for wind energy, where do you get the energy from?

Many think the simple solution is to store it with a battery.  However, for years battery technology simply lacked the capacity to store the required energy needed to supply energy on a large scale.  In 2003, the city of Fairbanks, Alaska plugged in a battery that is larger than a football field.  But even a battery that size only stores enough power to supply the town of 12,000 people electricity for seven minutes.  There is hope that solid state lithium ion batteries will eventually be able to meet this demand.  Companies such as Tesla are on the forefront of these technologies.

Another potential solution is to use the excess energy from renewables to make hydrogen fuel cells.  In this process, the excess energy is used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The molecules are then combined in a fuel cell that creates an electro-chemical reaction resulting in electricity.   This is a potentially good solution because there is no limit to the amount of hydrogen that can be stored.

There are many other potential solutions as well and hopefully one day soon at least one of these solutions will become economically viable as a way to store the massive amounts of energy this country needs.  Until one of these solutions does become viable, don’t look for the U.S. energy pie chart to change very much.

-Sean Combs, Legal Intern

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