Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (Arpa-E) – a branch of the US Department of Energy – says it has achieved a breakthrough in the area of battery storage.
Elon Musk and Bill Gates are leading initiatives in improving storage technology, however government-backed Arpa-E claims to have made the leap in large-scale energy storage that would enable electricity companies to bring more solar and wind power on to the grid.
Ellen Williams, Arpa-E’s director, told the Guardian, “I think we have reached some holy grails in batteries – just in the sense of demonstrating that we can create a totally new approach to battery technology, make it work, make it commercially viable, and get it out there to let it do its thing.”
Arpa-E was founded in 2009 under Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan to fund early stage research into the generation and storage of energy. Such projects, or so-called moonshots, were widely seen as too risky for regular investors, but – if they succeed – could potentially be game-changing.
Speaking to the Guardian, Williams said many of the projects fostered by the agency were already in sight of getting funding but the biggest breakthrough is in the area of energy storage. “I think that’s one area where we have delivered big time,” she said.
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 added.
“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.
Researchers have struggled and failed to replicate such successes at greater scale and lower cost outside the research lab.
Ernie Moniz, the energy secretary, said this week he was seeking to expand Arpa-E’s mission, in the light of a commitment from the US and 19 other governments on the sidelines of the Paris climate summit to double clean energy research funding over the next five years.
Speaking to Power Engineering International, RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive, Maf Smith expressed cautious optimism.
“Energy storage holds great promise for the future of renewable energy and in recent years a number of innovative solutions have been trialled,” he said. “This latest announcement provides further encouraging indications that progress is being made, although it’s too early to assess its significance. However, we are confident that, in time, a company will bring a commercially viable technology to market. When that happens, whoever achieves it, it will herald a sea change for consumers and companies alike”.
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