Lithium-ion batteries will be “the cheapest way to store electricity, such as from solar or wind farms,” by 2050, according to a new study.
Researchers at Imperial College London calculated the cost of storing energy with different technologies, including large-scale batteries and pumped-storage hydroelectricity, and forecast those costs into the future.
Lead researcher Oliver Schmidt (pictured), from the Grantham Institute and the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “Our model is the first to project full energy storage costs into the future, allowing predictions of which technology will be most competitive in a particular application at a particular time.”
“Our projections show that lithium-ion technologies will see a rapid decline in costs over the next couple of decades,” Schmidt said. “This is driven mainly by the fact that lithium-ion is manufactured at scale. The resulting reduction in initial investment costs is more significant than for other newer technologies such as flow batteries and flywheels, potentially outcompeting any performance advantages of these newer technologies.”
According to the study model, the cheapest energy storage mechanism at present is pumped-storage hydroelectricity.
However, as time progresses, pumped-storage hydroelectricity costs do not decrease, whereas lithium-ion battery costs come down, making them the cheapest options for most applications from 2030, the study said.
“Hydrogen storage and flywheel technologies also become the cheapest for certain applications, such as when the stored energy needs to be discharged over a long time period or when it must be discharged very frequently, but lithium-ion technologies are cheapest for the majority of applications.”
Schmidt said competing energy storage technologies need not be “abandoned… but they have to perhaps focus on performance and efficiency, making them the best they can be before being deployed at a larger scale”.
Details of the study are online.