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  • There's a cloud looming over the future of clean energy.

  • It's called curtailment, and it's the biggest obstacle to weaning the world off fossil fuels.

  • Curtailment actually happens when we produce too much wind or solar power

  • at certain times of the day and we have to justshut it down.

  • But what if we sent that extra electricity into giant batteries,

  • to use when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing?

  • That day just might be coming sooner than you think.

  • The easiest way to curtail curtailment would be a massive explosion of energy storage. Ideally: batteries.

  • There's just one problem. Batteries are still way too expensive.

  • Take a place like Texas. A quarter of the electricity from the Lone Star state comes from wind.

  • When the wind dies down, Texans just fire up a natural-gas power plant to make up the difference.

  • Battery prices would have to drop by half in order to compete with those Texan natural gas plants.

  • Today, less than one tenth of one percent of the world's electricity spends any time in a storage battery,

  • and even by 2040

  • the best forecasts say that batteries will make up just three percent of the world's power supply.

  • But consider the experience curve.

  • Renewable energy is a technology, not a fuel, so prices follow what economists call an experience curve:

  • the more solar panels we make, the better we get at making them.

  • In fact, every time the number of panels in the world doubles, the cost to make them drops by 28 percent.

  • Solar power just recently became the cheapest electricity in the world, and it's only going to get cheaper.

  • And it turns out, the same thing is happening with batteries.

  • As we build morewith electric cars and electricity storagethe cost of batteries plummets.

  • It's already dropped 80 percent in the last decade, and could do the same in the next.

  • Boom. At those prices, battery storage in a place like Texas suddenly becomes a no-brainer.

  • We're already starting to see it happen in places where electricity is expensive.

  • In Hawaii, the rainforest island of Kauai swapped its fossil-fuel power for solar-plus-batteries,

  • And Tesla has made deals in California and Australia to install the world's biggest battery fields.

  • The battery baronElon Musk  says his newly built, massively populated gigafactory

  • will spit out batteries 'faster than bullets from a machine gun,'

  • It will single-handedly double the global supply.

  • And he wants to start building at least two more Gigafactories in 2018.

  • But Musk is in for an arms race.

  • Chinese companies say they'll build capacity for about three gigafactories worth of batteries by 2021.

  • Samsung, LG Chem and others are also joining the fray.

  • Now, this is not a done deal.

  • If the battery revolution is going to work, tens of millions of people must

  • switch to electric cars over the next decade to feed the experience curve.

  • But there are also new technologies coming soon

  • like silicon anodes, solid state batteries, and lithium air that could skip us ahead on the experience curve

  • by more than a decade, making battery-powered trains, ships and even airplanes possible.

  • Soimagine a world where where city skies are clear of pollution, and where electricity is cheap and abundant.

  • It's not crazy to assume that 20 years from now, over half the world's power

  • will come from nature, backed by batteries.

  • And it all might be happening sooner than you think.

There's a cloud looming over the future of clean energy.

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The Way We Get Power Is About to Change Forever

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    Rachel Kung posted on 2018/01/25
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