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The storage necessity myth: how to choreograph high-renewables electricity systems

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This video was re-recorded by RMI to serve the energy community until its original version, delivered in the TED All-Stars session in Vancouver on 18 March 2014, is posted at ted.com. Copyright (c) 2014 Rocky Mountain Institute. Spreading this video for noncommercial use is permitted and encouraged. It's frequently said that variable wind and solar power endanger reliable electricity supply; and so we need either "baseload" fossil fuel-burning power plants, or breakthroughs in bulk storage. That's a myth. Amory Lovins explains why.
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Text Comments (45)
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DUME85 (8 months ago)
the assertions that we can currently meet most of our storage needs with ice and car batteries would be great however i'm skeptical that your figures are correct do you actually have any data on this. You also seemed to cherry pick countries that have good capabilities for wind which many if not most countries do not.
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Gary Lewis (1 year ago)
please download PDF from bottom of web site. www.roadmaptonowhere.com
Cees Timmerman (2 years ago)
Batteries are nice when Russia takes out the grid, though.
Ben Stanton (2 years ago)
Hydro is storage, demand response/energy management can be considered storage, even dirty old coal and diesel is storage - perhaps the oldest batteries in history! (Charged up very slowly, many years ago and discharged very quickly). Perhaps the title of this video should read "The /chemical/ storage necessity myth:..."
antronx007 (2 years ago)
RMI doing what they do best: Cherry picking data to suit their agenda.
leftcoaster67 (1 year ago)
Like the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear don't do the same?
Thomas Cheney (2 years ago)
Can you explain what in particular?
FDK (2 years ago)
How is it a myth when you are in fact confirming that we need storage in this very video?! It is also not true that those European countries does not use storage, that is exactly what they've done to reach those numbers. And, none of them are 100% renewable. Reaching 100% on random occasions when conditions are perfectly met is hugely different from being able to run the country 100% on renewables at all times.
Cappuccino & Co. (2 years ago)
the guy that made this video is a dingus..... clearly needs to take a renewable energy class... solar and wind in the US is not constant everywhere. power per area for wind is much much higher in the midwest compared to other parts... also solar produces much more power per area in south western states.... and i guess all my research that im doing in vanadium redox flow batteries is useless then huh? what a dingle berry. its economical in certain areas and its getting cheaper and it will be here sooner than you think but chill bruh, dont be spreading false info.
The Eh Team (2 years ago)
I still don't know why their wishful thinking hasn't lead them to believe geothermal can supply all baseload power instead of that little sliver at the bottom of that graph.
Darcie Lanthier (3 years ago)
“We all know that the wind doesn’t blow consistently and the sun doesn’t shine every day,” he said, “but the nuclear industry would have you believe that humankind is smart enough to develop techniques to store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, but at the same time humankind is so dumb we can’t figure out a way to store solar electricity overnight. To me that doesn’t make sense.” Elon Musk
Megan Morton's (1 year ago)
Stephen Nielsen
Cees Timmerman (2 years ago)
That was not said by Elon Musk, but by famed nuclear critic Arnie Gundersen on April 30, 2015 at 8 PM, two hours before Musk presented his grid batteries, according to Forbes on May 1, 2015 @ 08:13 AM.
Alden Wilner (3 years ago)
+Darcie Lanthier : Looks like that was actually Arnie Gundersen, of fairewinds.org
Stephen Nielsen (3 years ago)
+Darcie Lanthier A great quote that will come in handy. Thanks.
Achal H P (3 years ago)
The biggest mistake in the assumption here is the manner they have scaled up the variations of sun and the wind for 25GW and 37GW. This is wrong, when we scale up solar and wind the variations in the output may be even large because of seasonal changes across the entire continent. *This assumption should be validated properly.* *Assumes no resonance* effects in the grid, which will occur when multiple smaller units producing varying output, like wind. They need large expensive capacitor banks and sometimes electricity produced will have to be curtailed to prevent overloading of the grid. *Where is the materials economy?* Trashing WORKING low efficient appliances to replace high efficient products? Does not sound good ecologically. 20-25GW from efficiency? Easy on papers, tough in practice. Most of the assumptions should be reviewed again, because when scaling up things will not vary in a linear manner. These words are sweet to hear, but the reality(truth) is difficult to digest! TRUTH: *Renewables will just save fuel, will not eradicate fossil burning*
Otavio Marshall (3 years ago)
+Achal H P Good points. The truth is constantly refused by questioning and setting up new targets, where utopy plays an important role to change reality, and that is where RMI does a great job.
MrDeicide1 (4 years ago)
This is the first time I've heard of the "storage myth" strawman. Who raised this question? Some american hobo? This video is an answer to a shizzo hobo's objection to "renewables". I always thought that solar was ridiculous because it takes more non-renewable materials and energy to produce the solar unit - than it can produce during its lifetime. I never would have made the leap to "storage necessity" , since it's not... necessary.
myla reson (4 years ago)
Amory Lovins clearly explains why we need not wait for advancements in long term energy storage to shut down our aging, dangerous dirty fleet of commercial nuclear power plants - we can choreograph our clean, green sustainable energy production. We can turn away from nukes, coal, fracking and Lovins tells us how
SOAS007 (4 years ago)
The rocky mountain institute is a renewable lobby group. Not an unbiased source. That explains why most of this video is so pro renewable, and shows very bias stats.  Solar in Northern Europe averages 5w per sqM  Wind 2.5 W per sq metre.  Both are very intermittent. Solar output is inverse to need. Storage is also very land intensive. The french have it correct.  Today they are running on no fossil fuels and have the cheapest , and most reliable energy in Europe. They supply UK, Germany, Spain Swiss,Italy belguim and Germany, with spare reserve too. They do it with nuclear, and Hydro ( from the Alps) . Germany and denmark have spent time on renewables.( solar, and wind) They thus have the highest cost for domestic electricity in Europe( nearly the world) , but rely on fossil fuels because solar and wind are unreliable at this part of the globe. Stick solar in the desert, where there is space, and much more reliable sun. ( Like they do in Hawaii). Not appropriate for N Europe.
Eclipse Now (4 years ago)
One of the great problems with charging a whole fleet of electric cars is how would the grid cope. Would we have to double our daytime capacity and build out a super-grid as electricity demand skyrocketed! But NREL to the rescue: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory assures us that if we just charged all our cars at *night* on all that *spare capacity*,  we could charge 85% of American driving without building a new power plant or upgrading the grid at all! http://climatecrocks.com/2010/02/08/plug-in-hybrids-renewable-energy-solution-of-the-month/ But hang on. This is the same NREL that published statistics and models that Amory Lovins likes. You know, that guy that says we don’t *need* baseload power. He loves those hypothetical models. Not only do they assume *ridiculous* levels of energy efficiency (and I’m all for energy efficiency, but within reason!), they also commit the crime of trying to dodge the ‘baseload bullet’ by claiming we DON’T need baseload energy because not that much happens at night. We don’t really want industry and power and internet servers and airconditioning at night. Not even as the climate warms. We don’t really want our ipads and iphones and idevices all charging, the latest device with the trendiest apps, all requiring more and more baseload internet servers like running a fridge for each ipad.  They don’t matter. Amory Lovins has got a model to push! Too bad about airconditioning and iphones and…. electric cars. Honestly: these guys are meant to be the renewable experts. Does the left hand even know what the right hand is saying over there?
Vincent Maldia (4 years ago)
it looks like its expensive. You need to build a lot of stuff aside from wind and solar plants *Decrease electricity demand by efficient use. *Build dispatchable renewables like geothermal and biogas and mini hydro and solar thermal electric. *Changing the normal airconditioning of houses and businesses to ice storage air conditioning. *Widespread use of electric vehicle batteries as energy storage all of those add ons add to the cost. Any research done that compares the cost of all of the above versus just using a renewables + some nuclear? The IPCC says the latter is cheaper The PDF of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report says "in the absence or under limited availability of mitigation technologies (such as bioenergy, CCS, and their combination BECCS, nuclear, wind and solar), mitigation costs can increase substantially depending on the technology considered. (Table 3.2)". http://www.ipcc.ch/
Vincent Maldia (4 years ago)
the graph first assumes that a huge decrease in demand will occur due to efficiency. Maybe it could occur in industrialized countries. But how about developing countries? Its very easy to get a huge decrease in use if the previous generation was dominated by power hogs like in industrialized countries. But in a lot of developing countries the previous generation had zero electricity use like burning dung or wood for fuel and the next generation is now middle class and wants airconditioning and a car. Factor in population growth and I seriously doubt such a large decrease in electricity demand is possible in developing countries
Eclipse Now (4 years ago)
"Whatever exists is possible." Yet he fails to share just how often European windy and sunny countries are importing cheap electricity from nuclear-France, and how the French export more electricity than any other nation on earth! France is Europe's 'backup'. Whatever exists sure is possible! France shows us the way when they decarbonised without any funny numbers or outright lies. France decarbonised in about 11 years, going from 8% nuclear power to 80% (73% increase in 11 years) and the rest is hydro. Wind and solar can have their place, but nuclear must be the backbone of maybe half the grid!
Eclipse Now (4 years ago)
And there I was thinking NREL also said that we don’t need to double our daytime power grid capacity if we just charged our EV’s overnight, assuming reliable baseload power! Apparently that’s wrong now too. The EV’s are here to smooth the load, not just charge overnight and, um, actually *drive* using that power. Instead of driving, the EV's are meant to be able to charge during daylight hours and power the grid in the off-peak hours. Interesting how the left hand at NREL doesn't seem to know what the right hand is saying!
Zeev Kirsh (4 years ago)
armory begins by discussing electricity production 'costs' dropping . this is funny because 'costs' might be plummeting but actual prices are rising quite a bit . this is called stagflation. costs might be going down because consumption is dropping and at the same time there is an excess of zero interest rate and cheap venture funding for projects that would otherwise not get built.  if storage necessity is a myth, how is it that so much money is going into storage. how is it, that electric cars can exist without storage ( transportation fuel accounting for a full 25% of net energy used)  what does myth mean? what are you benchmarks? i've been reading armory lovins for a long long time, over 10 years.  he says it's a myth "to keep the lights on" . yea, lights. he's using that term in the generic sense to persuade his audience. but the truth is that you should take him at his literal word. you don't need batteries to keep the lights on, because it depends on when the lights are on. and yes, you can stagger the production of fossil fuel and hydro-power electricity production at night. 'dispatcheable' renewables.  he mentions biogas.  biogas is a huge joke. and this is why realists don't take armoy too seriously, such as when he suggested that cars should be 1000 pounds due to lightweight materials.  lovins SYSTEMICALLY AND PERSISTENTLY discusses the distant future at least 30 years out , instead of discussing the present. he uses the term "choreographed" as  a method of  brainwashing his audience to believe that mere simulations of the future are sufficient to convince the public to spend trillions of dollars of their money, through keynsian borrowing, to finance their own 'green future'.  this is how countries go broke. this is how germany is going broke.  there are some very real REALISTS discussing the future of battery chemistry and the future of scaling solar power. to produce  terrawatts not gigawatts for many billions of investment dollars. guys such as bill gross from idealab. people who have actual experience in  VC https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gross_on_new_energy bill gross isn't bullshitting you about the future and 'myths'. he readily admits our current industrial solar power paradigm IS NOT SCALING. you cannot build a few giggawatts and claim this is going to change the world in 30 years when there are 2300 gigawatts of total production capacity , less than 2% of which is solar and wind.  there are a lot of tricks and false statistics used in lovins speech. but people lap it up because he is perceived as a green energy 'saint'. with lots of backing. i don't buy it. he really hasn't contributed much other than pipe dreams. faith based energy  economics is nice and , like any religion, it can succesfully be used to solicit donations. however, the MONEY MUST BE SPENT WELL.  guys like armory don't and should not be given the responsibility as to how to spend it. buys like bill gross should. they are realists. 
anondude24 (4 years ago)
I this is positive progress, but i dont see why nuclear is bad. I would use renewables and nuclear.
Vish Ganti (4 years ago)
Relying on traditional generation resources and peaky plants can be equated to the phase " putting all your eggs in one bucket"
Howard Hoffman (4 years ago)
Excellent video.  With more plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, the less important storage becomes.  Also, solar tends to max out during the day when there is max demand for electricity.
seejasongee (4 years ago)
As Amory states, cold water and ice storage for daytime air conditioning needs by running the systems at night when demand is low, and power is cheap, will have a huge effect on shaving the peaks off the summertime loads which will reduce the need for more power plants. I can see this technology expanding to residential use not just commercial.
Vijay pentapati (4 years ago)
I feel there are are two challenges for implementing this model, at least in developing countries  1. Updating appliances to considered efficiency levels in the video 2. Wind Energy and Solar predictions are before day based, won't it hamper planning,: given seasonal changes now a days? I feel, addressing other similar concerns... this video is one stop solution for all problems related to energy.
Fibarchie (5 years ago)
We don't need a storage break through we are going to use electric cars where are these cars? How will they get charged up if they are discharging at night? How will you get to work with a car drained of power? What happens if the wind stops & it's cloudy for a few days? RE needs storage to make it reliable, it is expensive too so we need to have a realistic plan today, before it becomes vital and we find out we should have gone nuclear in the first place.
ROBwithaB (4 years ago)
I think one should remember that most EVs have a battery capacity substantially greater than that needed for the average daily commute, and this excess is likely to increase over time. The "range anxiety" issue, coupled with improvements in battery technology in coming years, are likely to propel this trend. Most  driving habits are very predictable. I might have an average daily commute of say 50km. On the weekend, I might take a trip of 200km. Once every few months, I might go to another city and travel 400km in a day. And once a year I might do a "road trip" requiring arepeated refuelling along the way. But I will almost always know at least a day in advance how much driving I'm going to be doing. One any normal day, I'd feel quite comfortable with a range of 50km for my commute, plus 50km for an "emergency" trip to the grocery store for last-minute supper ingredients, or perhaps an impromptu trip to a local restaurant or theatre or a visit to friends, or perhaps even a real emergency trip to the nearest hospital. So a decent EV battery would have at least 50% spare capacity on about 300 days of the year. All that would be required is the ability for me to punch in my required kilometres for the next day, and then plug the car in. As long as the battery has enough stored power for the next day's needs, it could transfer surplus power back and forth to the grid as required without me having to worry about it. I think that's what is meant by the phrase "smart charging". Of course, if the vehicle were also plugged in at my workplace during the day, it means that there's an extra 15% capacity available over and above the (one-way) commute and the "emergency" capacity. The battery would then also be able to supply electricity to the grid during the day to balance out any peaks. I'm only actually *on the road* for perhaps an hour a day. If the vehicle is plugged in the rest of the time (along with millions of others like it) there is a massive potential to use EV batteries to balance out variations in grid supply and demand, without any inconvenience to commuters.
emmanuel ngowo (5 years ago)
I like it the kind of energy which support the electricity nice
emmanuel ngowo (5 years ago)
[email protected] discusses the storage necessity myth: how to choreograph high-renewables electricity systems The storage necessity myth: how to choreograph high-renewables electricity systems
Mark Harris (4 years ago)
Thorough, skillful analysis by qualified people--patiently and relentlessly nudging us away from petro-lobbyist misdirection and back toward sustainable (real) solutions. 
Alvin John Colón (5 years ago)
Solar thermal storage can make solar power 24/7 and it already exists.  Electricity does NOT need to be stored after all!  The key is to store heat for later generation of electricity.  http://phys.org/news/2011-07-gemasolar-solar-thermal-power-hours.html
Thomas Gerke (5 years ago)
I like this video very much, however it's properly too technical for people that aren't already energy wonks. ;-) I think what's important to communicate is that in the past we've build  baseload power plants to optimize the cost of the electricity system. Big capital intensive coal or nuclear power stations that run 24/7 promised energy (not power) at a lower cost than existing power plants, so governments & the energy industry build those. (usually heavily subsidized)  Today advanced solar & wind are able to provide that cost optimizing role in the electricity system. Huge amounts of energy at low & stable costs - very predictable on a anual or monthly basis, but not a dispatchable power plant.
Adam Selene (5 years ago)
I agree 100% Amory. Great post. :)

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