ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside Scientific American Volume 306, Issue 3

Massive Energy Storage Technologies Could Revitalize the Power Grid

If renewable energy is going to take off, we need good ways of storing it for the times when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing



Christopher Griffith/Trunk Archive

To see the big obstacle confronting renewable energy, look at Denmark. The small nation has some of the world’s largest wind farms. Yet because consumer demand for electricity is often lowest when the winds blow hardest, Denmark has to sell its overflow of electrons to neighboring countries for pennies—only to buy energy back when demand rises, at much higher prices. As a result, Danish consumers pay some of the highest electricity rates on the planet.

Utilities in Texas and California face a similar mismatch between supply and demand; they sometimes have to pay customers to take energy from their windmills and solar farms. On paper, wind and sun could supply the U.S. and some other countries with all the electricity they require. In practice, however, both sources are too erratic to supply more than about 20 percent of a region’s total energy capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Beyond that point, balancing supply and demand becomes too difficult. What are needed are cheap and efficient ways of storing power, to be tapped later, that is generated when winds are howling and the sun is beating down.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Special Universe

Get the latest Special Collector's edition

Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, Future

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X