But the biggest breakthrough is in the area of energy storage. “I think that’s one area where we have delivered big time,” Williams told the Guardian.
The battery storage systems developed with Arpa-E’s support are on the verge of transforming America’s electrical grid, a transformation that could unfold within the next five to 10 years, Williams said.
The most promising developments are in the realm of large-scale energy storage systems, which electricity companies need to put in place to bring more solar and wind power on to the grid.
She said projects funded by Arpa-E had the potential to transform utility-scale storage, and expand the use of micro-grids by the military and for disaster relief. Projects were also developing faster and more efficient super conductors, and relying on new materials beyond current lithium-ion batteries.
The companies incubated at Arpa-E have developed new designs for batteries, and new chemistries, which are rapidly bringing down the costs of energy storage, she said.
“Our battery teams have developed new approaches to grid-scale batteries and moved them out,” Williams said. Three companies now have batteries on the market, selling grid-scale and back-up batteries. Half a dozen other companies are developing new batteries, she added.
Battery technology is the missing link in the supply chain between generating electricity via wind and solar and meeting requirements for base load. Until the last decade investment in batteries was puny compared to what has gone into other sectors. However the high oil price environment created an incentive to develop more efficient ways of generating and storing energy. Some of that is now coming to fruition and it is likely to have a transformative effect on electricity costs and the potential for electric cars.
It represents particularly bad news for coal fired power stations, since they have been supplying back up capacity for the intermittency of renewables over the last decade.
One of the companies Arpa-E is referring to is probably ITN Energy Systems who have been developing a Vanadium Redox Flow Battery. I posted an article from Mineweb in January 2011 which talked about the possible uses of vanadium in a new breed of batteries for utilities and these are now in the process of being rolled out on a test basis.
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