- Driven by government tax credits of up to 70 percent of the cost of investment, long duration energy storage technologies to back up intermittent wind and solar energy are being deployed.
- The additional cost associated with storing energy from the forced adoption of weather-driven wind and solar power are being paid for by taxpayers and ratepayers.
- Some large companies such as Amazon and Microsoft are investing in the technologies to reduce their tax burden.
- New storage technologies, if successful, could bring down the costs of energy storage compared to lithium ion batteries.
Long-duration storage technologies are batteries that contain 10 to 160 hours of energy discharge, according to the Department of Energy. There are many types of long duration batteries. For example, thermal storage uses renewable energy to heat bricks, rocks or molten salt and release the energy later to make electricity. Pumping water up a hill and letting it flow down to generate electricity is another form of storage that has been used historically and is still used today. One of the newest forms of storage technology comes from a company with a facility in West Virginia that uses an old steel mill and deploys an electrochemical reaction that turns iron into rust and back again, storing electricity in an iron battery. The goal was to develop a battery that was cheap, did not catch fire, did not need scarce and costly metals like cobalt and lithium, and could produce electricity for a fairly long time.
Iron ore, a key ingredient in the process, is shipped to the 55-acre site in West Virginia. The iron ore rusts as it is exposed to oxygen and the chemical reaction discharges electricity for over 100 consecutive hours. When the iron batteries are tapped out, they are recharged with renewable power that turns the rust back into iron. The batteries are designed to absorb large amounts of electricity when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.
Iron is being used because it is plentiful, cheap and nonflammable, which allows the company to build battery modules the size of a washer-dryer set. Packed together in enclosures resembling shipping containers, the batteries can discharge power for about four straight days—far longer than the standard four-hour discharge capability of lithium-ion batteries.
Each battery contains roughly 50 one-meter-tall cells made up of iron and air electrodes that enable the reactions that store and discharge electricity. The battery takes in oxygen and converts iron to rust. The process produces electricity. When renewable electricity is available, it is used to reverse the process and turn rust back into iron, releasing oxygen.
How Form Energy’s iron-air battery generates 100 hours of electricity
1. To charge the battery: Electricity flows in, turning rust into iron. This process emits oxygen.
2. To generate electricity: Oxygen flows into the battery and reacts with iron to create rust. The chemical reaction produces electricity.
Investors are backing the company’s 400,000-square foot factory (~9.2 acres), its first full-scale plant, which is expected to double in size by 2025. Backers include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate investment fund whose investors include Microsoft and Amazon.com. Last year, the company raised $450 million to build the facility from investors including TPG Rise Climate and steelmaker ArcelorMittal, which once owned the steel mill in West Virginia.
Once completed, the $760 million battery factory will employ about 750 workers, providing an average salary of $63,000. It is expected to start operations in mid to late 2024. It will receive subsidies and incentives from the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, 2021 infrastructure act and the Chips Act.
The company, Form Energy, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, is in talks with utilities across the United States. Earlier this year, Form Energy agreed to provide a battery system to Southern Co.’s Georgia Power utility, which is expected to come online in 2026, subject to regulatory approval. The company is also providing batteries to Xcel Energy and Minnesota’s Great River Energy.
Since the Inflation Reduction Act was passed and as of mid-July, more than 270 “clean”-energy projects have been announced in the United States, with investments totaling $130 billion, according to Bank of America. Spending on manufacturing construction doubled since late 2021, according to the bank. Manufacturing employment in the United States, reached its highest level since 2008, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Much of that infrastructure spending is coming to red states such as West Virginia. Down the Ohio River in Ravenswood, West Virginia, a company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is constructing a titanium factory that will be powered by a solar and battery microgrid. The project will also produce rechargeable batteries made by Our Next Energy, a Michigan energy-storage company.
More than $58 billion was invested in long-duration batteries worldwide between 2020 and 2022, according to Wood Mackenzie. The Biden administration appropriated $505 million for the development of long-duration storage in the 2021 infrastructure law, and last year’s Inflation Reduction Act contains tax credits for long-duration battery projects that can result in tax credits of up to 70 percent of the cost.
Because the politically correct renewable technologies, wind and solar, are intermittent and weather-driven, battery storage is needed to provide the electricity when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. Most storage technologies are batteries that consume space and are costly, but are essential to an all wind and/or solar system, which most wealthy countries want to pursue for themselves and for developing countries as well. The added cost of battery storage is not added to the cost of wind and solar power when determining their economics. Thus, the cost is an add-on that will increase the price of electricity for consumers, despite the myriads of subsidies governments are providing. However, unless natural gas, coal, or nuclear are used as back-up technologies, either consumers will have to live with the expense or suffer blackouts when the weather is not obliging.