EVP, Global Head of Engineering and Construction, Sonnedix, overseeing the design and construction of assets for global solar PV platform.
2019 was another blockbuster year for energy storage deployment. One question seems to stay at the forefront: When will we see a real competitor to lithium-ion? While there is no clear front-runner today to knock lithium-ion off its podium, there are many technologies that have the potential to be the next breakthrough.
Energy storage is referred to as the “holy grail” of renewable energy, as it gives solar and wind energy the ability to generate electricity 24/7. The need to shift energy from daytime to nighttime is critical for solar energy to compete with fossil fuels. Once these costs of shifting electricity reach grid parity, it is likely that solar and storage will replace many of today’s fossil fuel generators.
While lithium-ion had a dominant 60% market share of deployed projects in 2018, more and more utilities and independent power producers (IPPs) are experimenting with alternative technology pilot projects. There are several reasons why alternative technologies have become a key topic in the storage industry. Although we see lithium-ion costs continue to decline, the rate is currently slowing and would need much greater acceleration to reach grid parity coupled with solar. In addition, many lithium-ion technologies use cobalt (a conflict mineral), leading to a push for a more environmentally friendly and ethical reason.
Another key argument against lithium-ion is the inherent fire hazard the systems pose. Several lithium-ion battery fires throughout South Korea and other locations over the past few years brought this topic of safety to the forefront. On the technology side, lithium-ion sees annual degradation, both cycling and time-based. This degradation can have major impacts on the system as it progresses through its life.