This story was originally published by Grist and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Batteries are critical for our clean energy future. Luckily, their cost has dropped so low, we might be much closer to this future than we previously thought.

In a little less than a year, the cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by 35 percent, according to a new Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. Cheaper batteries mean we can store more solar and wind power even when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing. This is a major boost to renewables, helping them compete with fossil fuel-generated power, even without subsidies in some places, according to the report. Massive solar-plus-storage projects are already being built in places like Florida and California to replace natural gas, and many more are on the way.

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The new battery prices are “staggering improvements,” according to Elena Giannakopoulou, who leads the energy economics group at Bloomberg NEF. Previous estimates anticipated this breakthrough moment for batteries to arrive in late 2020, not early 2019.

According to the report, the cost of wind and solar generation is also down sharply — by between 10 to 24 percent since just last year, depending on the technology. These numbers are based on real projects under construction in 46 countries around the world.

The lower battery prices have big implications for electric cars, too. There’s a key cost threshold of about $100 per kilowatt hour, the point at which electric vehicles would be cheap enough to quickly supplant gasoline. At this rate, we’ll reach that in less than five years.

Now that cheap batteries are finally here, we’re well on our way to electric modes of transportation and always-on renewable energy — and not a moment too soon.

What’s driving the plunge? Giannakopoulou cites “technology innovation, economies of scale, stiff price competition and manufacturing experience.” Other storage methods, like pumped hydro, still account for the vast majority of energy storage capacity, but lithium-ion batteries are much more flexible and don’t require specific locations or environmental conditions to work. Like everything in the built environment, lithium-ion batteries also require mining and manufacturing. There’s still a chance that some new exotic battery technology will quickly supplant lithium-ion, but its ubiquity and — now — cheapness will be hard to beat.

Electric vehicles will become cheaper to own and operate than gas ones. In places like California, Texas, and Germany, electricity prices have occasionally dropped below zero — a sign that the grid wasn’t yet ready to handle the glut of renewable energy produced there. Now, more of that cheap power will be stored and passed on to consumers. This could be the moment when renewable energy starts to shut down fossil fuel for good.

Comments

According to Tim Watkins, a British social and economic scientist with a background in public policy research, electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries will not be our salvation. Lithium-ion batteries are a poor substitute for one of nature’s more energy-dense 'batteries' -- diesel fuel. Only diesel fuel -- and not gasoline -- can transport heavy loads, large numbers of people, and raw resources.

In Watkins' words:

"Diesel is the lifeblood of the civilization that we live in and depend upon. … The key question before us, then, is NOT how do we operate diesel-powered trucks (and tractors, trains, ships, cranes and planes) using only batteries and wind turbines? The question that we have to answer is what would be a viable non-carbon emitting alternative to diesel fuel? At present there isn’t one. And as a result, the only choice before us is to begin the unpleasant task of dismantling the highly exploitative and consumptive civilization that we have built in the years since the industrial revolution. Because if we cannot find an alternative means of powering the heavy lifting that our civilization depends upon, collapse is inevitable anyway.”

It would seem that both Tim Watkins (provenance unknown) and yourself are not quite in touch with the rapidly evolving technologies of renewable energy and storage solutions. There are multiple large companies manufacturing and selling fully electric trucks of various forms as well as buses to willing corporate customers who need heavy loads to be shifted in a cost effective manner. Unsubsisized solar and wind power intallations are now cheaper than any other form of electricity generation and where combined with large scale lithium battery storage provide electricity to the grid 24 hours/day and in multiples counties and states this significantly reduces peak wholesale demand and therefore electricity costs to consumers.
Things are moving along swiftly in renewable energies with increasing efficiencies and decreasing costs internal combustion engines of every form are simply no longer cost effective quite apart from the castrophic social costs of CO2 emissions in global warming.
Peter

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