Smarter Batteries for a Smart Grid
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Grid-tied solar could have a siginificant role in the smart grid--if we can get the lithium ion battery technology right. People living off the grid using photovoltaics (PV) or other renewable energy to generate power typically depend on maintaini... Lithium ion batteries use lithium salts and organic solvents rather than lead and acid to generate the electric charge. We have all used the consumer version of lithium ion batteries in laptop computers, cell phones, and even electric cars like the Tesla. These are the batteries we use when we need a long service life and better performance than alkaline or nickel cadmium can provide. Deep-cycle versions are sealed and do not generate explosive gases; they're also lighter than lead (what isn't?), almost maintenance free, and companies estimate a 20-year lifespan (though the technology for PV applications is still new). On the down side, they require rare earth minerals, you have to have additional electronics to run them safely, and they are at least three times the cost of lead-acid. GreenSpec shows the best of both battery worlds But the advanced design and performance might just be worth it when it comes to grid-tied applications such as those run by SMUD, and the cost of these batteries should drop as demand increases and technology advances. GreenSpec lists a number of the best lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries. One of the manufacturers we list has been making lithium iron magnesium phosphate batteries since 2002 and offering them for renewable energy systems since 2006. Another company's lithium-ion batteries are RoHS-compliant and can be equipped with energy management controls and designed for specific energy demands and uses, including 12-, 24-, and 48-volt options. Though lithium ion battery technology is not new, its use in renewable energy storage is. If you are trying to avoid toxic lead, need a sealed system because of ventilation concerns, and are willing to pay the price, these are worth a look. Yes, it will take years for the performance and cost to balance out for most consumers, but if these prove successful in smart-grid applications, utilities might find subsidizing use of these batteries is less expensive than building additional power plants.