Tuesday Scattered Thoughts
Zinc, energy transition skepticism, California dysfunction, eggs
Over at his June Link Nexus, Twitter friend @antirobust calls attention to zinc chemistries for stationary energy storage. He notes that high innovation and optionality in the energy storage space is one reason he’s not too concerned about some of the energy storage skepticism exhibited online, which I discussed here by breaking down several recent posts from the Manhattan Contrarian blog and its publisher, Francis Menton.
Here’s an excerpt from the Link Nexus (FYI: I capitalized and spelled out some of @antirobust’s text because I have editing OCD):
…I think Menton is probably right that a 100% wind/solar/hydro grid isn’t realistic at any kind of scale, and the models advocating for that are silly. But it’s critical to understand that this claim does not imply that building more wind and solar is bad on the current margin.
IMO the thoughtful position on deep grid decarbonization is that you can probably get to something like 70% wind/solar in many places with reasonable cost and reliability (whether it’s politically practical is another question). Decarbonizing the last chunk (with reasonable cost and reliability) is more difficult, and there’s a lot more uncertainty over what tech could play what roles (which is fine— we don’t have to have everything figured out yet). I think it’s possible that wind and solar overbuilding, transmission, flexible demand and various kinds of storage can get nearly all the way. But more likely you’ll have a large role for clean firm resources like nuclear, geothermal, hydrogen/clean-fuels, and bioenergy.
A final point here is just to be wary of using the 100% renewables meme as a strawman to attack wind and solar in general. A diet consisting of 100% eggs is inadvisable, but this does not imply that eating some nonzero amount of eggs is a bad idea (I am eating eggs right now).
These are excellent comments, and I have a few related thoughts to share.
First, I recommend following @antirobust on Twitter and subscribing to his Link Nexus, which has some of the best link roundups/commentary in my online archipelago of friends, bloggers, and Twitter mutuals.
Second, the zinc/storage connection also made its way onto my radar last week courtesy of this CA Current piece, which states:
Long-duration zinc air battery technology is advancing. Metal batteries using zinc are more advantageous than ones using lithium as a result of its accessibility, cost effectiveness, and longer life span. The lithium used in lithium-ion batteries, which provide nearly all today’s storage, is imported, has soared in cost and is environmentally problematic.
Two key zinc air battery pilots, headed by Toronto-based e-Zinc, are in the works in California and Texas. These pilots are being tested to provide 20 hours or more of continuous output in order to help the burgeoning technology achieve commercialization to keep electricity supplies flowing and decarbonize the grid.
The California Energy Commission awarded e-Zinc a $1.3 million grant in September 2020 for their prototype technology demonstration that aims to provide commercial and industrial backup power during outages. The project is about 10 kilowatts and will be charged by a solar photovoltaic system.
I agree that this is interesting.
Innovation, emergent tech, new stuff…this all holds appeal for me. Notably, @antirobust’s comments were concurrent with a similar email from a reader, who responded to my energy storage post with some thoughtful criticisms of the skeptics I discussed.
Which grants me an opportunity to clarify my own stance on energy storage, renewables, etc. My thoughts are very similar to those expressed by @antirobust above — I’m not a fan of strawman arguments against wind, solar, storage, etc; I find those takes boring and unimaginative. As I’ve stated before, I lean toward resource agnosticism/pragmatism/realism (“what’s the best tool for the job” + “what will benefit ratepayers the most” + “what promotes grid stability” etc.).
But, and this is where it gets a little messy — I’m also a West Coast creature, and I’m privy to all kinds of absurdities in the realm of energy policy, particularly in California, where certain people tasked with making major decisions literally don’t have a basic understanding of the material. So I gleefully indulge some hardline energy transition skeptics. The Biden administration, after all, views Cali dysfunction as a policy template for the rest of the nation (as discussed on this podcast), and that’s kind of unsettling.
One last note: energy transition skeptics are quite adept at highlighting the potentially exorbitant price tags of energy storage systems. This Ken Gregory report, for instance, concludes that full electrification of the U.S. economy with a wind/solar/battery system would cost $433 trillion. However, the anti-fossil fuel crowd is also adept at highlighting some large numbers to bolster its arguments. To wit, this Consumer Watchdog report claims that if California were to remain on fossil fuels, it would cost $400 billion a year through 2045, or $10 trillion total.
Please be advised, though: I looked at Consumer Watchdog’s Twitter account and noticed they retweeted a tiny man named Robert Reich, who, in the vein of Paul Krugman, seems to be wrong every time he opens his mouth.