While the 2020’s are off to a rocky start, certain industry trends are still expected to persist into the coming years. For example, the renewable energy market in 2019 ended the decade by powering the equivalent of 43.5 million homes in the United States alone. The biggest renewable sources (solar and wind) generated tens of billions in investments and hundreds of thousands of jobs each. These numbers are expected to grow inconceivably over the next few years; by 2025, the global market for renewable energy will reach $1.5 trillion.
Though its’ true that governments around the world are providing incentives to renewable energy, a lot of this growth is also demand driven. In the US, 71% of people think clean energy should be prioritized. Nearly half of consumers would be willing to pay more per month in energy bills (an average of $15 more) for their electricity to come from a renewable source. Climate and health awareness are encouraging consumers to value sustainable energy over traditional fossil fuels.
How will renewable energy companies meet these demands? The first thing they will need to do is figure out a better battery. Sustainable energy will be built on batteries in the near future. The most popular renewables are intermittent; solar energy is captured during the daylight while wind energy is captured on windy days. People still consume electricity on dark, still nights. This power needs to not only be generated when it can, but stored for when it’s needed. That means attaching batteries to solar and wind systems. As of 2019, less than 5% of behind-the-meter solar systems included a battery. That number is expected to be over 25% by 2025.
There is no attractive alternative to batteries. The current system of net metering, in which residential solar owners sell excess power to their utility company, is being lobbied against by utility companies who say it allows homeowners to use their infrastructure at no cost. In 2019, 43 states considered changes to their residential solar regulations, including lower net metering rates and higher infrastructure fees. As a result, residential solar will need to be replaced by a power storage system to be financially viable.
Today, the same sort of batteries fuel everything from electric vehicles to smartphones. They are lithium-ion batteries. Created in 1912, this class of batteries have changed little over the past 109 years. But by 2022, lithium-ion batteries are expected to fuel 61% of energy demand. That’s an incredible increase in usage!
The main problem with using lithium-ion batteries in conjunction with green energy is that lithium-ion batteries have several limitations preventing them from being environmentally sustainable devices. They degrade over time, quickly losing storage capacity and usable lifespan. Their lithium extraction, production, and (improper) disposal leads to water contamination and robs farms of irrigation. Furthermore, the variance in materials across lithium-ion batteries makes recycling difficult and costly. There’s a certain amount of irony in using environmentally-unhealthy batteries to power a green energy revolution.
What can companies use instead? One option is vanadium flow batteries. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, vanadium flow batteries don’t degrade as quickly. They can fully charge and discharge throughout their 25 plus years of useful life. Even better, they’re a sustainable alternative to traditional batteries. 100% of the electrolyte in a new battery is reusable. Recycled vanadium retains full functionality, meaning the need to mine fresh vanadium is greatly reduced. These batteries are even safer than lithium-ion in that they are less likely to catch flame or explode when disposed of or in use. Investing in greener futures means investing in vanadium batteries.
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