The tricky part about relying on Mother Nature for clean energy is that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. There’s also the opposite end of that problem, when weather conditions create a “perfect storm” of energy production that creates more power than the grid actually needs. Without a solution to store that excess power, electrical utilities must release it to avoid power surges that can damage appliances and lead to power outages. While selling that power to other utilities is an option, on a day with ideal conditions for renewable power generation the demand for the power may be quite low. There have been times in Ontario, for example, when an electrical utility has actually had to pay another province or state to take their excess power.
Those types of situations have global energy stakeholders feeling very hopeful about the opportunities that rapidly advancing lithium ion battery technology are creating for energy storage. Large-scale battery “farms” allow power from clean energy sources to be stored when it’s available and saved for distribution when it is needed most.
In the fall of 2017, all eyes were on Tesla when Elon Musk committed to build a 100-megawatt lithium ion battery facility in South Australia in 100 days or provide it free of charge. Musk and his team delivered and the project, which pairs the world’s largest lithium ion battery with a nearby wind farm, has made South Australia a world leader in dispatchable renewable energy. The project can power 30,000 homes for up to an hour in the event of a blackout, but will probably be used more often to even out electricity supplies.
Being hailed by some as the energy sector’s next disruptive technology, the rapidly decreasing costs of battery storage could radically transform the power industry. Battery-pack costs decreased to less than $230 per kilowatt-hour in 2016, compared with almost $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010, thanks in part to the growing market for batteries in the consumer goods and electric vehicle market.
Smaller scale energy storage is also driving growth in the battery industry. Home-based energy storage solutions, such as Tesla’s Powerwall, store solar energy collected through solar panels on the home and make it available on demand to power the home independently of the electrical grid.
Batteries aren’t the only way to store renewable energy. Other solutions include flywheels, fuel cells running on renewable hydrogen, and systems based on compressed air or pumped water. With more and more countries committing to phasing out coal-fired power, the global energy storage market is predicted to double six times between 2016 and 2030.
As the battery and energy storage market continues to grow, so too will the competition to secure the technical talent needed by the companies in this space. Electrical engineers, systems design engineers, software engineers, product managers, and field service technicians are just some of the positions these companies will require.
If you’re a job seeker interested in a career in clean tech, take a look at our current opportunities in the automotive, manufacturing, power and nuclear sectors. If you’d like to learn more about finding the right talent to help your organization reduce its carbon footprint, connect with an Ian Martin recruiter or download our Insider’s Guide to Technical Recruitment.
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