While I remain deeply pessimistic about our chances here, I am willing to embrace neither surrender nor the perspective of the pollyannas in our midst who uncritically await a technological solution or, as I like to describe it, a deus ex machina. Nonetheless, technological progress is being made, progress that will surely be part of the arsenal in our survival kit.
Now that renewable energy costs are fast approaching parity, and in some cases below parity, with fossil fuels, the next major challenge is the engineering of storage capacity so that energy can be tapped into as needed. On that front, I am happy to report that things are moving ahead at an exciting pace.
First, there is the Tesla Powerwall, a home and industrial power storage device that can store power both from renewable sources and conventional utility sources when rates are low. It has the potential, given its pricing, to ultimately supplant home generators and help curb greenhouse gas emissions in the process. And there are other similar products with various price points on the market, each with its own advantages and disadvantages and most with both domestic and industrial applications.
Battery storage is but one of several technologies that can aid in the transition to greater reliance on renewable energy sources. And the beauty of energy-storage technology is that in many cases it will obviate the need to build costly mew power stations, as it will be doing essentially the same things they do: provide power on demand.
In the UK, the first plant to store electricity by squashing air into a liquid is due to open in March, while the first steps have been taken towards a virtual power station comprised of a network of home batteries.
In case the jurisdiction does not have mountains, as required in the above system, another method would seem to effect the same benefits:
Its new £8m demonstration plant, at Pilsworth, near Manchester, and funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), is set to start in March. By compressing air 700 times into a cold liquid, it stores power which is released by evaporating the liquid air into a high pressure gas to turn a turbine. The 5MW system will be able to power many thousands of homes for a few hours. Gareth Brett, CEO of Highview, says it is like pumped storage, but can be sited wherever it is needed.There are other storage approaches being implemented as well, including using the degraded batteries of electric cars, all of which you can read about here.
I think the point demonstrated by these emerging systems is that we really can be on the verge of dramatic changes in the way we secure and store our power that will contribute to a significant lowering of the greenhouse gases that are so imperiling our world. But both imagination AND political leadership are necessary for successful transition. I am confident about the former but not so much about the latter, despite the fact that the future of our world is at stake.