As Batteries begin to replace fossil fuel power plants, what are 4 challenges to overcome?

Tesla Megapacks at Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Credit: Tesla

You are living in the early stages of the transition to clean energy.  In the coming years, expect most gas and coal peaker plants to close.  These will be replaced with battery storage of mostly solar energy. 

This article is about four challenges that will be overcome for this incredible transition to succeed.

UPDATE: Elon Musk saw this article on Twitter, and replied to it on July 25, 2022, calling it a “Good article.” I hope that you’ll enjoy it as well!

#1 Increasing Supply of Refined Lithium

There is currently not enough refined Lithium, and this provides a challenge in the transition to clean energy. Tesla is working to scale battery production with refined Lithium at Giga Nevada and the new Megafactory in Lathrop, California.

At the Q2 2022 Earnings call, Elon Musk emphasized the need for more refined Lithium, the component needed for batteries.  Elon said, 

“I’d like to, once again, urge entrepreneurs to enter the lithium refining business.”  Elon Musk

Elon Musk revealed in a recent interview with Johnna Crider that extremely pure battery-grade lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate is needed to prevent breakdown in the battery cell, 

“For example, with lithium, it’s more lithium refinement than it is the actual mining. So you better take the ore that contains lithium, and you’ve got to refine it and get it to battery-grade lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate. And it has to be extremely pure. Otherwise, you could have a breakdown in the cell.” Elon Musk

#2 Scaling Battery Manufacturing

Scaling battery production is a constant challenge as processes must always be flexible enough to improve.

Building batteries faster and at larger scale will occur in order for our world to transition to clean energy. Tesla is addressing this challenge and currently building batteries ranging in size from 13.5 kWh Powerwall to 3000 kWh (3 MWh) Megapack.  Large and small batteries are needed to combine with others to form massive power plants, replacing old-style gas and coal energy with solar. 

Tesla Energy Engineer Mike Snyder speaks against the backdrop of 256 Tesla Megapack battery units on 33 concrete slabs at Moss Landing

Mike Synder of Tesla Energy, spoke at the opening of Moss Landing Elkhorn Battery last month, saying Megafactory Lathrop will produce ~ 40 GW hours of Megapacks a year,

“The Megafactory fully ramped can produce up to 40 GW hours of Megapacks per year.  For context, 40 Gigawatt hours is approximately 50 of the projects you see behind us here, being produced each year here in California and really around the world.”

#3 Working with Existing Infrastructure to Streamline Clean Energy Installations

Tesla Megapacks, Angleton, Texas. cr: Tesla

It is difficult to integrate the existing older infrastructure seamlessly with Tesla’s new hardware and software system, and it has to be done.  Moss Landing near Monterey, California is a location known for decades as exclusively a gas peaker plant site. Thus, it contains physical infrastructure needed to wire energy to customers. Snyder spoke about this challenge,

“There’s a lot of work and figuring out how to integrate these large projects into our existing infrastructure.

As the projects become larger and larger and more powerful those problems become more nuanced and more complicated to solve, and we all have to work to do that together.

Its about landing the wires here at a critical substation, like Elkhorn, or it’s about assessing the grid impacts at different interconnection points in the grid.

All of those problems become much more interesting for engineers and much more complicated to solve, and we need to be doing that together.

And really, as we grow we need to collectively assess how best to leverage such a flexible, fast-acting, bidirectional resource like we’ve never really had. It’s truly an exciting time to be in the industry!”

#4 Updating Local Policy to Encourage Virtual Power Plants

As Tesla Energy works to meet the demand for battery storage systems with Megapacks, another way to meet demand is through aggregating together Tesla Powerwalls that individual people like you and I own to form Virtual Power Plants.

It takes time and effort to change old ways of thinking at state and local levels.  Tesla’s Energy Policy team is working in my home state of Texas to help get virtual power plants online.  I wrote about that last month in “Tesla’s Texas Virtual Power Plant ASAP.”  Although the process might seem slow as molasses in wintertime, eventually it will happen, and there are things you can do to support these efforts! (I list some at the end of this article).

It was a change in policy for PG&E to allow ~1500 California residents who own home Tesla Powerwall batteries to volunteer to join together to form a virtual power plant.  PG&E announced they will “call load management events for participating customers, directing their battery to discharge when there is high demand for electricity.” 

A positive policy change led to the “Emergency Load Reduction Program [ELRP]” which aims to discharge stored battery energy to the grid during high electricity demand. Tesla Powerwall owners are the foundation of this program. According to a news release, the ELRP is managed by PG&E, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison. 

These programs and similar ones will eventually be seen in many states and in countries around the world over time.

CONCLUSION

  • Having a constant and reliable source of refined grade lithium is a challenge.  This must be achieved in order to scale battery manufacturing.
  • Tesla Energy leader Mike Synder voiced the challenge of working with existing infrastructure.   “There’s a lot of work and figuring out how to integrate these large projects into our existing infrastructure. As the projects become larger and larger and more powerful those problems become more nuanced and more complicated to solve, and we all have to work to do that together.” 
  • Local policies are a challenge.  Transitioning to clean energy means giving up the old ways of relying on gas peaker plants.  Tesla Energy Policy team aims to continue to work with local policy leaders in order to speed up the transition to sustainable energy.

Here are a few ways you can help:

If you own a Tesla Powerwall, sign up to participate in a pilot program if it is available in your state.  Currently, Texas has a three-year pilot program in the planning stages!

Join the Bros. for Decarb. Their motto is “just a group of Bros who care about decarbonizing the global economy as fast, cheap and reliable as possible.”  They can be found on twitter and they also sell t-shirts with LFDECARB to subtly remind us that the Southeast is often ignored in DECARB.  All their profits go to @energyalabama

Photo in downtown Austin, Texas by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

I would love to share a few more interesting articles with you that relate to Tesla Energy!

Article by Gail Alfar. Exclusive to What’s Up Tesla – This blog post was created utilizing STARLINK satellite services. All Rights Reserved. July 24, 2022. If you can support this blog financially, info is at “How You Can Support.”

17 thoughts on “As Batteries begin to replace fossil fuel power plants, what are 4 challenges to overcome?

    • This is a concern with capitalism and not with renewables. When you have an economic system that can dump toxic materials on poor people/destroy nature rather than recycle for 10% cost increase ( if that; may just be a requirement for capital expenditure) anything is possible. The reason shipping goods back and forth across the world oceans to use cheap labor in other countries is not because it’s really cheaper but because those people live in dictatorships ( the west overwhelmingly supports) and the cost of the destruction of the world oceans& biosphere is simply not measured. Basically practically anything can be recycled IF the main concern was not private profit maximization and ‘free trade’ which is just a cover for the global wealthy to exploit the poorest people in the world for further self enrichment.

      Like

  1. The problem started with throw away society We manufactured items so cheap and unrepairable that we have the mindset from birth that everything is to be tossed away. An example is toys. I had few toys growing up. one I prised was a second hand erector set My mother got used. I had it until I joined the Navy and gave it to a cousin. It still had all the parts and every nut and bolt.I think It sparked my drive to build things and find out how things worked. The Navy taught me Electronics. The Navy repaired its equipment. I started my own second hand store repairing anything that was repairable. I watched as things were made so you had to toss them away. Why not? Because you had to buy another. It was guaranteed income. and so it continued even with cars. Where I repaired my car, I cant even see the engine now. We have gone from five people on a party line telephone to a phone in every pocket. when they break we toss them away. Now with the price of gold it may prove profitable to mine the trash dumps. It will be the same for batteries As the cordless tools became popular. how many batteries have been discarded to degrade and the elements leach into the environment. why not provide a bag that offers a credit to buy the replacement when the new one is purchased? like the deposit on cans and bottles that helped clean up the environment a battery recycled would get you a store credit for anything else. Then the dumpster divers would help keep the environment clean.. While recycling the rechargeable is a good start have a deposit on the regular battery as well. We discarded millions each year. We focus upon things we can have little impact upon. Climate change is a form of pollution that when every person contributes a little, the impact is great. Government with its uncontrolled spending is not the answer. Making items that are repairable keeps them out of trash dumps. Repairing items gives one a sense of pride in ownership. I spent hours each week making my junk heap look as good as I could. Today we purchase pride. Pride is worthless unless it comes from personal accomplishments. Earth’s resources are not infinite. Will we wait until they are gone before we act? We seem to focus upon things of little importance. We still have a choice dont let government make it for you.————-I, Grampa

    Like

    • They will ship dead batteries to poor countries like Mexico. They did that years ago when batteries and other chemical companies where closed down like plating cos. There are plenty of poor countries for rich companies to send their pollution too. What state recycles Tesla batteries?

      Like

  2. Lithium batteries are a great solution for stabilization and for a few hours of energy storage, but they cannot be realistically used to heat homes in the winter with energy stored in the summer and even Tesla’s official estimations of total Earth’s needs don’t include this kind of amounts of energy (not even close). So clearly Tesla is aware of the problem and agrees… It would require insane amount of mines, factories and hundred trillion dollar investments, so it’s absolutely not feasible and will not happen.
    Elon’s suggestion is to rely on Nuclear for that, but if you have enough Nuclear for winter then you don’t need renewables for the summer so…

    We need long term storage and it won’t be lithium based. Hydrogen can work, but it’s very expensive and difficult to use. CO2 capture and methanation seems to be the best solution, coincidentally something Elon is also into but at SpaceX. If you get to net zero cycle methane is amazing and can literally save the planet (and geopolitics), as long as it doesn’t leak too much…

    Liked by 1 person

      • His calculations target 90 hours of storage maximum. Europe needs WEEKS of storage for winter (not months because there is still wind and some sunlight). Japan needs WEEKS of storage for typhoon season. For the same cost and effort you could build enough nuclear power plants that would power something like 40 billion people civilization. Seriously, it’s insane. It’s not gonna happen at this scale in many, many decades not just because of money but also logistics. Look at alternatives. We knew how to solve this problem 100 years ago without affecting the climate and health of people and nature. But a typical electric battery is not it.

        Like

    • Solar wind and battery does home heating too; i think Tony Seba lays out clearly that overinvestment in these three areas leads to energy cost that trends to zero considering that solar panels can last at least half a century and that batteries efficiency decline curves means they could last as long and still operate at maybe half new. It’s also my understanding that turbines are designed to last 20 – 30 years with insurers generally now being up to guarantee up to 20; it really depends on the quality of equipment, area the the dedication& skills of the maintenance teams. Considering that there is a reasonably large sunk cost it’s going to make sense to repower or use the same foundation and substation systems meaning it will after twenty or 25 years still be cheaper to deploy new technology on old infrastructure than start as new.

      The world’s oldest turbine is Tvindkraft in Denmark, which has been in operation since 1978 for a total of 43 years [5]. What makes this turbine special is that it was designed for 2 MW but has mostly operated at half the capacity, 1 MW, allowing it to have a much longer life. Another interesting fact is that the Tvindkraft was organized and built by teachers and over 400 volunteers to prove that wind was a viable alternative to nuclear and oil.
      Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory did a study and estimated that turbines reengineered in 2019 have an average additional lifespan of 11 years. Turbine owners can receive a federal tax credit as long as they spend enough on new equipment to qualify as a new project. Repowering also allows for increased digitalization and improved monitoring of wind speed and direction and, hence, increased control and efficiency of the turbine.
      https://energyfollower.com/how-long-do-wind-turbines-last/

      Liked by 1 person

    • We clearly have a long way to go to 100% sustainable energy. Until then, worrying about that is sacrificing good for perfect. Solar and batteries can generate (lets say) 50% of energy in the summer and make a huge dent on carbon emissions. In the winter, they will generate half as much energy as the summer. During these months, we can run natural gas power plants to generate electricity. Additionally, in many places homes already use natural gas to heat homes, so worrying about electricity generation will not be a factor until they are replaced over time. Then, once we are offsetting most of our emissions, we can start to implement the ideas that have been in R&D for how to store green energy for weeks + months. This is the fastest path forward to sustainable energy.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s