Why Energy Storage is of Primary Importance
It’s as if we’re in an eternal monsoon, but we’re dying of thirst, because we’re holding a thimble out into the deluge, filling it, drinking from it, repeating, and wondering why we’re thirsty.
The concept that our world is an energy-poor place, with limited, scarce resources which beg our competition, is totally wrong, existentially dangerous, and accepted as true by most (if not all of) the leaders of our world.
Every second, the Sun sends to us an unfathomably immense amount of energy. This energy falls down upon our world like a silent snow. This energy is absorbed by the many diverse surfaces of our planet, and usually is immediately converted to thermal energy, which is released into the atmosphere and more generally, our world. This energy echoes and reverberates through the seas and canyons of our planet in many forms, waiting to be harvested and used for the benefit of human goals.
We humans require energy to survive. Because we think of energy as a scarce thing, we’re prone to fighting over what we have presently available, rather than seeing and controlling our future reality. Oil rich regions are increasingly soaked with blood, stemming from conflicts engineered by people who simply don’t understand that we have enough energy already – we just need to store it.
Today, the only place we store energy is in the reservoirs of hydroelectric dams. Over 99% of our world’s readily available stored energy is saved away in this fashion, using perhaps the most elementary mechanism possible – holding water in at the top of a hill, and letting it spin a turbine as the H20 molecules tumble down toward the sea, later to be evaporated and deposited back into the reservoir as rainfall.
In the below image, El3 is the amount of energy which is actually made available to consumers. Raw coal, for example, fresh from the mine, can only power the cities of our world if it is burned in the furnaces of power plants. However, of all the energy fed into the power plants of our world, many of which are coal, only 33% actually reaches consumers and is used. For every light switch you’ve turned off to save electricity, there is the equivalent of two more lights perpetually on, simply being lost to systemic waste. Ours is a radically inefficient process of producing and storing energy.
Envia Systems sells an electric vehicle with a range of 300 miles per charge, and which costs $20,000 MSRP, which is a dramatic improvement on recently available technology.
EOS Energy focuses on wholesale-level grid storage, and makes hyper-efficient novel batteries that actually “breathe” air, cycling ambient gas through its system to enable the necessary chemical reactions. EOS is also developing a liquid battery which would behave almost exactly like oil, except that it could be recharged, and with renewable energy.
There are 5 types of renewable energy generation processes, which if used together with energy storage, could power our world many, many times over.
1. Wind – the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface creates currents of air, which spins turbines
2. Solar – sunlight superheats steam which spins turbines
3. Geothermal – magmatic heat rises out of the Earth and spins turbines
4. Tidal – consistent oceanic currents flow over generators fixed to the sea floor which spin turbines
5. Hydroelectric – rainfall flows downhill with gravity which spins turbines
Not necessary are coal, natural gas, tar sands, nuclear, oil, biofuel, or ethanol. We voluntarily choose these unnecessary, unclean processes. To an objective observer, we simply prefer unclean energy. We like it better.
In a formula, my point is this:
Global energy demand < (wind + solar + geothermal + tidal + hydro) * energy storage
These five types of energy generation are unpredictable and sporadic on a day-to-day basis. Some afternoons are sunny, some are not. This “unpredictability” is actually quite reliable when viewed from the proper perspective – as climatic trends, rather than daily trends. Our lacking energy storage capabilities force us to view energy generation on the tiny time scale of hours or days, rather than months or years. With better energy storage technology, our misconception that green energy is “unreliable” would quickly erode into the correct view: that the above five methods are in fact extremely reliable - much moreso than oil-based energy, which will be gone within a century or two.
Who could be skeptical that the sun will shine, that rain will fall, or that the wind will gust?
Sustainably travelling long-distance
Perhaps the most formidable challenge will be moving freight and passengers long distances, between cities, countries, and continents. There are 3 methods of transport which must be sustainably practiced:
1. Shipping tankers
Trains are perhaps the easiest fit. A bullet train corridor could easily be established where all along the corridor, there are energy storage facilities. The close proximity of energy storage facilities to demand centers will be critical to minimizing energy transmission loss. Trains could most easily be powered sustainably, and could carry the bulk of the global transportation load.
Airplanes could be powered by a rechargeable liquid storage of energy, such as that proposed by EOS (as mentioned above). Airplanes, in my view, would be extremely difficult to power sustainably, though I do believe that this is possible.
Shipping containers could be outfitted with gigantic batteries instead of gas tanks. These batteries could be removed upon exhaustion at special stations and quickly replaced with charged units to allow the ship to continue on its way. The charging station would have a bank of stored full batteries waiting to be loaded onto passing ships. Hawaii, for example, has a huge amount of energy storage potential, and could make a great recharging station for sustainable trans-Pacific shipping traffic.
Iran and Israel are on a hard war path, and such a conflict presents an enormous risk to the peace of our planet. This conflict is not one of race, nationality, religion or dogma – it is a conflict of energy. Iran pursues nuclear energy so that it can provide more cheap electricity to its people.
But nuclear power is simply not necessary. Iran needs to build energy storage capacity, and combine that with the five types of sustainable generation mentioned above. Iran, nor any other country, needs to build nuclear generation facilities. At best, these facilities are almost certain to melt down and cause catastrophe over the scale of geologic time; and this time scale is what we must use when we speak of, for example, large amounts of plutonium, which will remain radioactive and hot for millennia. Even the most prepared and modernized of nations, Japan, was steamrolled by nature in March of 2011, resulting in multiple nuclear meltdowns which threatened the safety of tens of millions of people. These risks are patently unnecessary.
Energy storage is centrally important to every aspect of life on Earth. Mastering energy storage is a requirement for attaining world peace. As we look into the future of our world, we have a huge amount of human productivity to allocate. We can choose, like most of our ancestors, to use this human productivity toward violent means, fighting wars and committing more murder, or we can use it to build energy storage for ourselves and for our innocent posterity.
Declare independence: the 3 most important issues facing the world (preview: battery tech / energy storage is #1)