Why 2023 is a pivotal year for batteries
Over my time writing about climate, and even before that in my previous life as an engineer, I cultivated a pretty major obsession with batteries. And it’s not just because the concept is so mind-blowing: batteries are set to play a leading role in the transition to renewable energy, both in electric vehicles and on the grid.
So when the new year rolled around and we here at MIT Technology Review started working on a series called “What’s Next in Tech,” I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. The result went live this morning – check it out for all my predictions on what’s going to be big this year in battery technology. And for this week’s newsletter, let’s dig a little deeper into the role of batteries in climate action, why I think they’re so exciting, and where the tech is headed.
The energy puzzle
Stored energy is absolutely essential to our way of life. The ability to turn on the lights, cook dinner, or drive to work depends on how much energy we can release when we need it. Today, the vast majority of this energy storage is in the form of fossil fuels. Coal, natural gas, petroleum – all forms of fossil fuels contain energy in their chemical bonds, the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. These fuels are burned when we need them in power plants or in vehicles, transforming this energy into a form we can use.
But now we are trying to stop burning fossil fuels. We have great candidates for new energy sources, especially solar and wind power. But these springs are “intermittent,” a long word for the sun not always shining and the wind not always blowing.
So we need a way to take the electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels and store it, and it turns out to be more complicated than it looks.
A quick aside here to say that there are other ways to at least help with intermittency. Adding baseload and distributable power sources like nuclear, geothermal, and hydro can somewhat balance out the intermittency of solar and wind power. And better, longer transmission lines to carry electricity can also help.
But back to energy storage.