The worldwide demand for solar and wind power continues to skyrocket. Since 2009, global solar photovoltaic installations have increased about 40 percent a year on average, and the installed capacity of wind turbines has doubled.
The dramatic growth of the wind and solar industries has led utilities to begin testing large-scale technologies capable of storing surplus clean electricity and delivering it on demand when sunlight and wind are in short supply.
Now a team of Stanford researchers has looked at the “energetic cost” of manufacturing batteries and other storage technologies for the electrical grid. At issue is whether renewable energy supplies, such as wind power and solar photovoltaics, produce enough energy to fuel both their own growth and the growth of the necessary energy storage industry.
“Whenever you build a new technology, you have to invest a large amount of energy up front,” said Michael Dale, a research associate at Stanford. “Studies show that wind turbines and solar photovoltaic installations now produce more energy than they consume. The question is, how much additional grid-scale storage can the wind and solar industries afford and still remain net energy providers to the electrical grid?”
Writing in the March 19 online edition of the journal Energy & Environmental Science, Dale and his Stanford colleagues found that, from an energetic perspective, the wind industry can easily afford lots of storage, enough to provide more than three days of uninterrupted power. However, the study also revealed that the solar industry can afford only about 24 hours of energy storage. That’s because it takes more energy to manufacture solar panels than wind turbines.
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