Net Zero Cities: The future of energy storage

As Front Range cities push to achieve net-zero goals, they’ll have to rely on new and emerging energy-storage technologies that could revolutionize the way energy is stored and used. That was the message Tuesday morning at the Energy Storage panel of BizWest’s Net Zero Cities event.

The session, moderated by BizWest managing editor Ken Amundson, included discussions about the increasing proliferation of lithium ion batteries, the emergence of new technologies for hydrogen storage and practical energy-storage applications for municipalities, businesses and residents.

“We are in the midst of an exponential rise in battery manufacturing capacity,” said panelist Joel Danforth, energy programs and new business director for United Power.

By 2029, Danforth said, global manufacturing capacity for lithium ion batteries — which power everything from cell phones to laptops to electric cars — will have increased by nearly 475% from its current levels. Even before that point, electric vehicles could be more cost-efficient to manufacture than gasoline ones.

“The price of a lithium ion battery is within striking distance of being more cost-effective than the internal-combustion engine,” Danforth said. “Sometime over the next decade, we will reach that point. That is the inflection point that a lot of analysts in our industry have an eye on.”

While lithium-ion batteries are a decades-old technology that is beginning to scale even more massively, hydrogen storage is in its infancy. As a very light, low-density gas, hydrogen has defeated attempts to efficiently store it since the technology was first theorized in the 1970s. That is starting to change, said Masood Ahmad, resource planning manager for the Platte River Power Authority.  

Technology is emerging to store hydrogen either as compressed or liquid hydrogen, ammonia or ethanol, which allows the hydrogen to be converted to electricity in a fuel cell or burned in a power plant.

“Hydrogen storage is very new at this point,” Ahmad said. “This is a great technology with a lot of potential but a lot of problems that need to be solved.”

These technologies are also emerging on smaller scales that businesses and individuals can use. Emerson Reiter, senior director of energy storage for Pivot Energy, said that some low-energy-use businesses, such as self-storage facilities, can become net energy producers for their community by building solar panels on their roofs. And individual homeowners can even purchase batteries for home energy storage, said E Source CEO Wayne Greenberg. 

That latter technology, though, is neither cost-effective nor widespread yet. More than 55% of homeowners aren’t aware that energy storage systems exist for their homes, Greenberg said, and home battery storage does not yet pay for itself within three years, the threshold for cost-effectiveness. At this point, most adopters of home battery storage are millennials who earn more than $70,000 per year and have already enrolled in other energy saving programs.

“At this point, it’s what people buy if they want to be cool,” Greenberg said.

Electric vehicles themselves could become energy storage tools that then sell their power back to the grid, said Mac Burns, director of product management for Lightning eMotors, an electric vehicle company that replaces the internal combustion engine of existing commercial vehicle chassis with a fully electric motor. 

“Things like school buses would be a great application for vehicle-to-grid energy,” Burns said. “It goes out in the morning, sits all day. Goes out in the afternoon, sits all night. Sits all weekend, sits all summer. So your town or county or municipality can have this fleet of school buses essentially become a large battery bank.” 

© 2021 BizWest Media LLC

As Front Range cities push to achieve net-zero goals, they’ll have to rely on new and emerging energy-storage technologies that could revolutionize the way energy is stored and used. That was the message Tuesday morning at the Energy Storage panel of BizWest’s Net Zero Cities event.

The session, moderated by BizWest managing editor Ken Amundson, included discussions about the increasing proliferation of lithium ion batteries, the emergence of new technologies for hydrogen storage and practical energy-storage applications for municipalities, businesses and residents.

“We are in the midst of an exponential rise in battery manufacturing capacity,” said panelist Joel Danforth, energy programs and new business director for United Power.

By 2029, Danforth said, global manufacturing capacity for lithium ion batteries — which power everything from cell phones to laptops to electric cars — will have increased by nearly 475% from its current levels. Even before that point, electric vehicles could be more cost-efficient to manufacture than gasoline ones.

“The price of a lithium ion battery is within striking distance of being more cost-effective than the internal-combustion engine,” Danforth said. “Sometime over the next decade, we will reach that point. That is the inflection point that a lot of analysts in our industry have an eye on.”

While lithium-ion batteries are a decades-old technology that is beginning to scale even more massively, hydrogen storage is in its infancy. As a very light, low-density gas, hydrogen has defeated attempts to efficiently store it since the technology was first theorized in the 1970s. That is starting to change, said…