Stanford scientists calculate the energy required to store wind and solar power on the grid

Renewable energy holds the promise of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But there are times when solar and wind farms generate more electricity than is needed by consumers. Storing that surplus energy in batteries for later use seems like an obvious solution, but a new study from Stanford University suggests that might not always be the case.
“We looked at batteries and other promising technologies for storing solar and wind energy on the electrical grid,” said Charles Barnhart, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP). “Our primary goal was to calculate their overall energetic cost – that is, the total amount of fuel and electricity required to build and operate these storage technologies. We found that when you factor in the energetic costs, grid-scale batteries make sense for storing surplus solar energy, but not for wind.” The study, which is supported by GCEP, is published in the online edition of the journal Energy and Environmental Science. Most electricity in the United States is generated at power plants that run on coal and natural gas – fossil fuels that contribute significantly to global warming by emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide. Solar and wind power are emissions-free and renewable, but depend on sunlight or wind to operate.

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