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Sunday, March 12, 2023

I Like Big Batteries - Why

Today, we use batteries in everything from our electronics (phones, watches, tablets, earbuds), to power tools, toothbrushes, and electric cars. Battery tech is more important to our daily life than it's ever been. And now that the tech is maturing, it is being bundled together into bigger batteries than ever before for new purposes.

We'll look at how batteries, specifically big batteries, are being used and (more importantly) how this is laying the foundation for the "Electrify Everything" future. 

Why Big Batteries...

Two primary markets use big batteries: energy storage (residential and industrial) and long-range electric vehicles (personal transportation and transportation of goods).

Battery-based energy storage is vital to our renewable energy future from moving people and goods to smoothing out the intermittent nature of renewable energy. For transportation, to replace all the towing, hauling, and road trips that internal combustion vehicles are used for today, we're going to need EVs with big batteries. For renewable energy to power the lights, air conditioners, and heat pumps in a major city, we're going to need big storage batteries.

Grid Stabilization & Renewable Energy Storage

The sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow, but this does not mean renewables are unviable. A big battery can fill in the gaps and absorb the excesses. This applies to whether it's industrial-scale wind or home solar. 

Power inverters outside the battery building at Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility in Moss Landing, California. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Industrial Energy Storage

One example of a massive industrial-scale battery is the Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility in California. It has 4,500 lithium-ion battery racks stacked for a total of 1.6 GWh of capacity. This battery bank can fill in when there are short-term outages, it can maintain the grid frequency, and it can make a renewable portfolio a viable part of the grid production. Fully charged, this facility could power over half a million homes for 24 hours.

Home Energy Storage

Residential batteries are great. They allow you to time-shift your grid usage to the cheaper hours of the day and provide you with blackout protection. We've had home batteries for about 2 years. These batteries kept the power on when snow and ice took our grid down on Valentine's Day 2020, they make our solar production more valuable, and they charge up (just in case) when wildfires plague the state.

In addition to this blackout protection, the time-shifting ability makes our solar worth about 75% more, since we can use solar energy when prices are the highest, instead of just when the sun is shining. 

Measured in mere kilowatt-hours, residential batteries have far less capacity than an industrial energy storage system (measured in gigawatt-hours), but there are far more residential installations and these little residential packs can be ganged together into a virtual power plant, working together to significantly offload the grid during peak demand periods. 

Big Batteries Can Move People and Goods

Batteries are the powerhouse for the future of transportation from scooters to semi-trucks. Personal transportation, hauling, towing, deliveries, and more will be battery-powered.

Personal Transportation

Recently we published an entry about the need for some people to have long-range electric vehicles. A big battery in your electric ride provides the range needed, even in adverse weather conditions. It provides future-proofing against degradation or the curveballs that life can throw at you (detours, evacuations, new commute due to a new home and/or job...). With a big battery pack, if you can't plug in every night or if you forget to plug in, you're not stranded. 

A personal vehicle with a big battery provides versatility. 

Electric trucks with big batteries are available now and more are coming soon. These vehicles can provide vehicle-to-load (V2L) services, allowing you to plug electrical tools directly into the vehicle. Power your saws and drills right from the truck bed. Have a job site that doesn't have electrical power yet, no need to haul a separate generator, just plug in and get the job done.

With the right equipment, these large battery vehicles can even power your house during a blackout. Vehicle-to-home (V2H) blackout protection is something that only vehicles with big batteries can do.  

Electric Semi-Trucks

On-highway and medium-duty trucks from Freightliner are shipping now. These freight trucks currently have 150kWh to 300kWh of battery capacity depending on the intended use. These are not small batteries.

Tesla's all-electric class 8 commercial semi-truck completed its first 500-mile trip with a full load in November of 2022. The first customer deliveries started in December of the same year. Musk has said that Tesla aims to produce 50,000 semi-trucks in 2024. As I write this, the full specs have not yet been released. However, the pack is estimated to be more than 900kWh. We'll be seeing megawatt-hour packs soon.

Electrifying semi-trucks is very important. Today, semis are primarily Diesel-powered. In the US, they are only about 1% of vehicles on the roads, but they have a very outsized pollution impact; they generate about 20% of vehicle emissions and about 36% of particulate emissions. This directly has an impact on health and air quality.

One additional advantage of electric semis is regenerative braking. Regen braking is nothing new for EVs, but semis take this to a whole new level. Coming down an incline, hauling a heavy load, a Diesel semi will have to use engine braking or jake brakes and brake pads. This creates noise and particulates from the brake pads. An electric semi, on the other hand, will be able to use regenerative braking coming down that same incline. This means at the bottom of the incline, the e-semi will have more charge than it had at the top of the hill and the brake pads will last significantly longer.  

This concludes "Part 1 / Why" of our big battery series. Check out part 2 (Demand) next week.

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