Renewable energy is increasingly displacing fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal; however, wind and solar farms do not guarantee a base load. When the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, there is a lull in electricity production. Gas, coal and nuclear power plants have been reliable base load generators but society increasingly wants to get rid of them.
Mega-storage facilities offer an alternative. STEAG, a German energy company, aims to build a giant lithium-ion battery. In the first expansion stage, the mega-storage facility will have a capacity of 250 megawatts (MW) before being expanded to up to 500 MW. Such mega-storage systems can ensure a stable power supply as the contribution of renewable energies to electricity grids continues to increase.
It can hardly come as a surprise that Tesla, the e-car pioneer, is also acting as a pacemaker in mega-storage. So far, Tesla has built the world's largest electricity storage facility with a 300 MW plant in California. Just how fast are energy storage capacities increasing? In 2017, Tesla set a record with a 100 MW facility in Australia. Three years later, the capacity of the world's largest electricity storage facility has thus exploded threefold.
Now another 300 MW plant is to follow in the Australian state of Victoria. Here, too, it is to ensure the reliability of the grid. The mega-storage facility is scheduled to go online as early as the end of this year. At the same time, Tesla is pursuing its activities in the USA. In Texas, the company is building a hitherto largely secret battery plant. According to a report by the Bloomberg news agency, this mega-storage facility will have a capacity of 100 MW. This would be enough to supply around 20,000 households with electricity for a day. In February, a cold snap in Texas left several million people without power for days. Since power generation and grid operation do not have to be separate in the USA, as they are in Germany, wind power plants in combination with mega-storage facilities are already operating more economically there than gas-fired power plants, according to the market research company Wood Mackenzie.
Bidirectional batteries - Volkswagen is becoming a pioneer
VW wants to take a different path than Tesla. The German car company plans to use the batteries of its electric cars not only for driving but also as storage. To this end, Volkswagen makes the following calculation: in Germany alone, 6,500 gigawatt hours (GWh) of wind power are lost every year because it can neither be used nor stored when it occurs. This amount could be used to power around 2.7 million electric cars for an entire year.
In order to be able to use its batteries as storage units in the future, they are to operate bidirectionally from next year, i.e. they will not only be able to store electricity but also to supply it back to the grid. The electricity can either be used for the home or fed into the grid. That makes sense because cars sit around unused most of the time - this applies to e-cars just as much as it does to cars with internal combustion engines.
While the market for rechargeable batteries for e-cars is fairly transparent, there is much less information about mega-storage systems. However, the fact that a mega-market is also emerging here makes the following goal clear: In the long term, Tesla's business with giant storage units is to become just as big as that with cars. Since the forecasts for lithium demand have so far been largely based on the estimates for e-cars, it is easy to understand what it would mean for the lithium market if Tesla CEO Elon Musk were to be right with his forecast.