This is going to become more and more common. Li-ion battery costs are falling at a constant ~15% per year and there is no real reason why this shouldn't continue. Similar to what Moore's law did to semiconductors, this will mean that batteries are poised to have a massive impact and eat any energy application that can't keep up. New tech will have a hard time to keep up simply due to momentum this has already developed, aka it will have to be at least a magnitude better AND keep on scaling.
This is why Tesla is valued higher than GM, Daimler or pretty much any other car company. Tesla at it's heart is a battery company with products built around that. From what I've read, from 2025 onwards traditional internal combustion engines will not be able to compete on price with electric cars.
Something similar will likely happen to energy storage, though this is of course still a relatively novel industry that has been spurred on by renewable energy's intermittent availability. Interesting times..
Edit: percentage of annual battery price drop after doing some googling
I believe it (the Tesla battery plant) was built as a joint venture with Panasonic giving the IP and tooling and Tesla operating the plant. They're using a custom cell format also, away from the ubiquitous and standard 18650.
LG, Panasonic and Samsung make almost all the lithium ion cells used today so it doesn't seem odd that Tesla would license one of their technologies to start. The r&d savings would be in the billions.
I haven’t been able to find a clear quote in print, but a year-old article in Vox  reads:
> “Musk has been the visionary,” said Steve LeVine, a journalist at Axios who has written a book about the battery industry. “He has been willing to take the plunge all the way along, from the very beginning.” In contrast, he told me in a phone interview, “Detroit has approached this race so cautiously.”
I remember hearing Musk being quite adamant the scale of the factory was for batteries, but you have to understand, he can’t really publicly say that he’s leveraging Panasonic for now, but will drop them as soon as he can.
Everything that he has been saying lately implies that they won't drop them. They may add other suppliers (especially for the factory in China), but they will likely always rely on suppliers for the cells themselves. I can't really think of a good reason for this to change.
After all, they are by far the world's largest consumer of batteries. They have leverage.
The touchscreen was done elsewhere, by someone else. Seriously, it was presented as a product to several phone companies and did not draw them in. The key to the first IPhone was the interface and form factor.
Tesla provides a 10 year warranty for their stationary energy storage systems. I have seen a bunch of articles claiming that Tesla projects a ~15 year lifespan but have yet to find any actual statement from Tesla. Ultimately lithium ion lifespan is hugely dependent on temperature, depth of discharge, and number of charge cycles so there is potentially a lot of variance depending on use case and local climate.
It depends on many variables, namely depth of discharge, cycle count, speed of discharge and the same for charge.
If you bring your lipo cell from 80 to 60% and back slowly you can get an order of magnitude more cycles. This lends itself well to solar storage scenarios where you want to level out the production and can plan around how and when it will charge and discharge.
If you consider Australia as a whole, did it save anything? That is, did it simply save the Australian state of South Australia $40 million they would have spent on the spot market, but entirely at the expense of other entities in the Australian market that would have otherwise sold it the electricity?
Not that there is anything wrong with that - it still makes total sense for SA to deploy such a system in that case, but it's very different than say saving $40 million in fuel costs due to not spinning up short-term natgas generators or something.
Short version: the Australian energy market is a mess and was being gamed by a small (2 or 3) number of operators of gas peaking plants who were driving the spot price up to several orders of magnitude higher than normal wholesale prices. The battery by simply existing cut the ability of these operators to game the market as heavily, because they could only bid up to the floor price the state government had set for the battery to bid in at.
This is direct state interference in a competitive market so the “floor” is still quite high. With more private operators entering the market the ability to game the system will be eroded further since everyone wants to get the easy money.
The savings were mostly due to cutting the fat out of the market gouging practices. No/little change to actual supply occurred.
Your point is valid, the 40M would have went elsewhere in the market. I still think it's arguably better to not be wasting fuel and contributing pollution, and that preventing the disproportionate flow of money from utility consumers to operators is a side benefit... but that's debatable and a very socialist opinion.
There's nothing socialist about squeezing inefficiencies out of a market. It's what well functioning markets are for, after all. From what I understand the Australian energy market is a long way from well functioning, with a few small players holding the system to ransom.
Socialism would be hitting those guys with a big regulatory stick, or shutting them down for just providing a service. Not all state expenditure is socialist. Were monarchies involving heavy state domination of the economy socialist? No, and neither necessarily are liberal democracies with a state sector, especially if that state sector is exposed to market forces.
It's really annoying that so many mentions of socialism or capitalism on HN get the basics wrong. These terms have perfectly good established meanings that are actually quite specific.
The only inefficiency is that they're burning a consumable to provide the electricity during peak. The rest (likely a good part of the that 40M) is going back into the economy in one way or another (construction of the peaking plants, operators margins, jobs, suppliers of consumables, taxes on consumables, taxes on profits, etc) - provided that those funds don't leave the country it should be very near to a net neutral cash flow for the local economy, only that the battery keeps more in the consumers pockets vs the utilities', hence my socialist comment - moving money from corporations to consumers. If you consider that the energy for the battery ultimately comes from the same grid, and that grid is not entirely renewable, then it's power in all probability also consumed some fuels (70% of Australia's power comes from coal I think).
So: Australia is sunny and it's consumption peaks generally follow the temperature due to air conditioning - so build more solar and pair it with more storage (batteries) instead of investing in coal and gas burning.
> hence my socialist comment - moving money from corporations to consumers.
Thats is such a bizarre comment. No corporation has a right to make money, they have to earn it by providing a valuable service. If that service can be provided more efficiently another way, tough. That's what market forces are all about.
Yes the energy company commissioning the battery is publicly owned. You could squint and see some socialism in that. I've no argument there. However it's doing this because it is exposed to market forces, and overspending on peak power provision. Characterising responding to that market stimulus with capital investment is I think going a step too far.
Look at it another way. Is exposing public companies to market forces and having them react to those stimuli more socialist than protecting them from markets, or less socialist? Is it closer to pure capitalism or further away?
None of the problems in the SA grid have been due to renewables.
The problems have been interconnects failing, poorly maintained transmission lines failing, the market operator placing restrictions on renewables which meant that renewables were not allowed to try to keep the lights on, and reliance of SA on electricity imported from unreliable interstate supply (aka coal thermal plants that break down or simply fail due to high ambient temperatures).
All of SA’s energy problems are due to poor regulation, poor market operation, poor maintenance, Federal interference, market gaming by fossil fuel operators, and unreliable coal plants.
There will be similar returns possible for other batteries in NSW (a net importer, thus highly vulnerable to gaming of the market) and QLD with a large installed base of unreliable coal which means increasing need for ancillary services.
Coal is not reliable to start with, and the plant currently in use is old and getting to the point of being no longer economically viable. NSW and QLD grids will need significant support services as they transition from unreliable coal to dependable (but intermittent) renewables.
It's worth noting that the major recent failures of the grid across south-eastern Australia have been due to 1) tornados taking down the interconnector between Victoria and SA (a failure which the conservative government blamed on renewables), and 2) regular failures from the decrepit old coal power plants.
While the transition to renewables has indeed been rapid and jarring, that's not what has caused problems.
Failure of a meshed power system cannot be attributed to the failure of any single sub-system. Rather it must be a combination of factors including those you just mentioned.
The dependence of the power system on renewables (specifically wind farms)contributed in two ways to the blackout:
1. The majority of wind turbines provide little or no system inertia. By displacing synchronous generation with wind generation, system inertia is reduced which results in greater ROCOF during an event where there is a change in active power demand/supply. In the SA blackout, fast ROCOF overwhelmed the system's last line of defence- under frequency load shedding.
2. Some wind turbines contained a fault ride-through setting which AEMO was apparently not aware of prior to the blackout. Specifically, the setting caused the turbines to disconnect after experiencing a sequence of voltage excursions within a set time period. The disconnection caused a loss of active power supply to the grid which contributed to the drop in frequency and eventual collapse.
I don't have any specific wear numbers, but a system like this is going to be designed for maximum lifespan not for limited cases where you want every possible drop of energy that can be put into or out of the battery. I suspect that the cells are never charged above about 75-80% of capacity and probably are never discharged below 20-30% of capacity. Avoiding both extremes should greatly extend the number of available cycles from hundreds to thousands or more.
AFAIK these things can be recycled with relative ease. I wonder at which point it would make sense to include a small battery recycling plant with large installations like this. "Cell XYZ is damaged, remove, replace and recycle"
3000 cycles “lifespan” but most of the degradation happens in the first couple of years with the rate of degradation about 3% a year, capacity still remains and the product will still have significant capacity in 20 years.
As opposed to say a synchronous converter which requires annual downtime and continual replacement of parts, and (being limited by inertia) can’t provide the same stability and support that a battery can.
The payback period is ~18 months so lasting less than 10 years is mostly irrelevant.
On top of that these systems are still useful well below their original capacity, so they can rather than a sudden huge bill you simply add more capacity as the original battery’s degrade in a fairly predictable fashion. Over time you end up with a much smaller annual investment than your saving every year.
While this is true, these battery solutions tend to offset the much larger externalities of the fossil-fuel based technologies they help make redundant.
The li-ion externalities is mostly incurred once when mining. Although it's still in it's infancy, recycling li-ion batteries is already possible, and supposedly profitable. Especially when you can get an enormous batch of cells of exactly the same model as you would with this project.
The biggest problem in recycling li-ion batteries is that you may need different processes for different cells, so you need to sort them first.
There's some interesting politics going on wrt lithium in Chile. Seems like the regulators don't want to increase output as lithium extraction uses a ton of water, and the Atacama is one of the driest places on Earth.
Presumably that is why the same company is trying to kick off in Australia as well, even though we have higher regulatory and labour costs here.
> Li-ion battery costs are falling at a constant ~15% per year and there is no real reason why this shouldn't continue.
There are of course a variety of good reasons why exponential cost reduction won't continue, such as the cost of raw materials, shipping, and so on - but most importantly that almost nothing works like that for long.
Li-ion battery manufacturing has seen a good uptick in efficiency due to quickly growing demand and a lot of money poured into squeezing out efficiencies, but there is no reason to assume exponential cost reductions to continue indefinitely. Indeed, it does't work that way for nearly any other industrial product, and (current) batteries aren't special in any way that would make them obviously different.
> Similar to what Moore's law did to semiconductors ...
Actually it is not similar at all. Semiconductors were actually special. There was an exponential reduction in feature size for many years, which led to exponential increases in performance, power efficiency, etc, per dollar.
The massive gains were a direct result of the underlying process being scaled in an exponential manner. Almost nothing else works like this, certainly not batteries. The basic chemistry and efficiency of batteries, including Li-on has been pretty much the same for decades. There are occasional improvements in chemistry or anode construction or whatever, but these are a few % here or a few % there, and many claimed improvements don't pan out at all . That's nothing like the doubling of transistor density that continued for decades. In particular, the total storage of batteries is related to number of atoms of the active ingredient, and that generally puts a fairly hard cap on size and other efficiency factors.
Batteries are becoming cheaper because the production has been scaled up and efficiencies of scale achieved, but this will probably follow a similar curve as for any other popular product like lettuce or vehicles. There is no magic  and you'll hit a wall pretty quickly.
 Just go back five years and look for "big" battery news, e.g., big suggested improvements in any characteristic and see if any of them are being used today. Very few are.
 Of course there might be magic in terms of a very different battery chemistry, or some totally new way of storing energy that replaces batteries. There have been a lot of contenders over the years, but very few winners. A look at the periodic table also indicates that when it comes to batteries you can do better than Li-ion batteries, but not that much better.
TBH, I'm not really following your logic here. While obviously a 15% reduction in cost cannot happen yearly, the Moore's law comparison is still relatively accurate.
Those Lithium Ion batteries that haven't changed in decades? They were only commercially released in 1991, less than three decades ago.
I feel like people have a hard time seeing that a curve is still exponential when it moves at ~4% a year, as batteries have for the past century or so. But that still means that the technology could effectively double in ~15 years. How many ICE applications become irrelevant at that point? And which ones become irrelevant at various points in between?
> Those Lithium Ion batteries that haven't changed in decades?
I mean the basic chemistries haven't changed in decades. Li-ion batteries were understood and experimented on long before they became commercially viable.
The basic chemistry is the same as it was back then. There have been various improvements in packaging and chemistry/anode tweaks that have maybe resulted in a doubling of capacity in that time.
> I feel like people have a hard time seeing that a curve is still exponential when it moves at ~4% a year, as batteries have for the past century or so
It is actually a hard problem to see if something is exponential at very low growth rates. Like the economy used to grow at 5%, then 4%, then 3%, now 2% - is it really growing "exponentially" or are we trying to fit an exponential curve to something sub-exponential?
After all, if you take the measurement of anything at times T0 and T1, you can calculate the rate of growth in % terms, which by its very units implies exponential growth, but it may not be.
So if Li-ion batteries keep dropping in price by say 15% +/- 5% for the next five years, you won't really have enough info to say who was right. You can fit other curves to that data. Only when you have many years with a high enough growth rate, like Moore's law, can you really be sure exponential is the only curve that fits.
> The battery revolution is in full swing.
I don't disagree - batteries are everywhere and becoming cheaper and better in many respects. It just won't look anything like Moore's law long term.
I see your point now, and I largely agree with it. I do think that some of the same problems apply to Moore's law, though. At any given point, it could have been off by a significant margin and occasionally looked really dicey.
The reason the ongoing drop in battery prices matters is that they are essential for the saving the environment by getting the planet off of fossil fuels.
That being the case, the relevant question is not whether the prices will continue to drop forever at the present rate. Rather, the question is whether they will drop low enough to make the transition possible.
Well, they are already low enough to do that for some uses, and a good deal more price reduction is expected in the coming decade, so it seems the answer is yes, they will drop low enough.
There are still orders of magnitude between current batteries and the theoretical hard cap. Current batteries throw away enormous capacity due to the safety constraints in preventing thermal events. Lots of folks looking at how to solve that problem.
And what then? In term of energy contained in atoms, current batteries are many, many orders of magnitude away from the theoretical maximum energy density of matter. (And so is liquid hydrocarbon fuel.)
> There are still orders of magnitude between current batteries and the theoretical hard cap.
Not at all. Existing cathode materials have a theoretical coulombic capacity of about 200 mAh/g (mostly less than this value, a few more have more). So for a 45g cell like an 18650, you are looking at 9,000 mAh maximum in the impossible world where your battery is 100% cathode, no anode or electrolyte. Those cells are already > 3000 mAh, so there is no way there are orders of magnitude between current batteries and the hard cap.
On the contrary, for contemplated chemistries the practical hard cap is probably less than 2x current capacity/weight values (since you need a significant amount of anode and electrolyte in practice), and almost certainly less than 3x.
> Current batteries throw away enormous capacity due to the safety constraints in preventing thermal events.
If by "current batteries" you mean current chemistries like Li-ion and existing and contemplated cathode materials, then this is not correct. The batteries have essentially the ideal material ratios within the existing manufacturing capability. That is, if you were willing to have a much less safe battery with the same materials you would gain almost no capacity. The main concession to safety is when a safer cathode material is chosen, like LiFePo over cobalt or whatever.
Batteries don't need to hit theoretical maximums, they only need to get within the ballpark of liquid fuels (maybe .25-.5x)? This will basically require the use of air in the reaction, since one of the reasons liquid fuel can store so much energy in such a compact and lightweight form is that it doesn't require storage of one of the primary reactants (oxygen).
Also important in some applications, such as aerospace, is that liquid fuel depletes in weight as you use it. Batteries are enough of a closed system that you still have to carry all of the weight around even when you're out of power.
The main reason semiconductors scaled the way the did, was due to economies of scale. The more refined the process, the more R&D money had to be put behind the next node to make it work, the more production you needed to justify the investment. The end result being that we currently only have 3 (?) companies that are actively working on bringing out the next-gen semi-conductor node.
The same principally applies to almost anything. In fact, for typical physical products the saying is that double the production will halve the cost. This is no different. Moore's law was much the same, just that it's scaling was much faster than anything seen before, such that every 18 months we were able to halve the costs. And of course semiconductors revolutionized almost everything.
For li-ion batteries, this seems to be every 4-5 years and has been for the past 20 years or so. Rumors have it that Tesla is even beating this...
Call it "Ric's law": every 4-5 years li-ion battery prices will halve ;)
Moore's law was very different because the underlying process was being scaled. CPUs just process information, and the inherent limit on the amount of "stuff" needed to perform say an addition has an incredibly small physical limit  which existing chips don't approach. So through scaling the feature size of chips, CPU manufacturers were able to take the same amount of silicon, the same size wafer, and get "double" the computational power (roughly speaking) out of it. So with about the same amount of "assembly line" work you can churn out something that is twice as fast in 18 months. After a decade its 100 times as fast, but your "assembly line" looks about the same.
That's not "efficiencies of scale" - that's fundamentally making something much better due improved physics, with the same amount of work. It particular, it would apply even to "small" producers.
Now don't get me wrong, CPU manufacture was also subject to traditional efficiencies of scale: the biggest fabs got bigger, and a few large players squeezed out the rest and were able to sell more and average our their R&D costs over more sales, but that effect is small compared to the million-fold improvement in the underlying physical design.
Batteries have no such scaling. The power stored is basically related to number of lithium ions and the capacity of the anode to accommodate them all. There are some small efficiencies: you can increase efficiency from 80% to 90%, but never to 2000%. You can make materials thinner or cheaper. You can change form factors to use materials more efficiently. You can standardize on battery sizes to make more use of a single production line. You can secure long term lithium contracts and open more mines.
These are all the traditional "efficiency of scale" things and they all hit a wall pretty quickly. You could probably easily sustain a 15% reduction for a while longer, but certainly not 40 years like Moore's law.
> The same principally applies to almost anything.
It doesn't, just look around.
What else has decreased in cost by a factor of a million over the past few decades? Cars have increased in popularity by many-fold since the 40s , and after an initial period of traditional "efficiencies of scale", costs have remained relatively fixed.
Look at any random food product that suddenly increases a surge in popularity, perhaps reaching a 10x sales multiplier: final cost and production costs don't drop 10x.
If all of a sudden we start eating 2 avocados every meal they aren't going to start costing 10 cents.
> In fact, for typical physical products the saying is that double the production will halve the cost.
I can imagine this rule is true... up to a point!
That's the "traditional efficiencies of scale" at work: it's usually an S-curve . If you want some custom widget, you are probably going to have to pay $100 for the first one, and $1 each or whatever for your run of 100. When you order one million, maybe it drops to 1 cent. When you order a billion, they don't cost 0.001 cents though.
You don't have to take my word for it though: just look at any two big companies, but where one is bigger than the other, and look at their costs of production. Let's say Coke sells 5x as much as Pepsi: does Pepsi cost 5x as much to produce? Not all, they are virtually identical.
Many models of vehicles sell 10x or 100x of some unpopular rivals, but the production cost is about the same.
 Approximately, at least - although it depends heavily on the product. For example, the initial part of the curve might not be very flat for some things (e.g., with large fixed one-off costs) - but they almost all share the "rightmost" flat part of the S-curve.
While the scalability behind silicon was perhaps easier and faster, there are similar effects at work for batteries.
Li-ion batteries are typically spooled in layers  (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery#/media/Fil...). The thinner the layers, the higher the capacity as you have a smaller distance between positive and negative layers. From my discussion with battery chemists, this is what is primarily driving the annual ~15% reduction, economies of scale also obviously playing a role.
Unsure what the theoretical limit of battery size layers is, and how far off we are from that, but the thinner we get those layers, the higher capacity the batteries per weight and also presumably price.
> While the scalability behind silicon was perhaps easier and faster, there are similar effects at work for batteries ... The thinner the layers, the higher the capacity as you have a smaller distance between positive and negative layers.
I'm arguing it's not at all all similar. The capacity of a lithium ion battery is fundamentally limited by the amount cathode material it contains, along with sufficient electrolyte to support it, just like any other battery. Making other materials thinner, allows you to stuff in more of this stuff, and other changes in the arrangement may make the process more efficient, but up to a limit. There is hard cap to usefulness of all of these processes, at the "theoretical efficiency" and in principle softer caps before that point long before you approach the theoretical caps.
If you have a chance, ask the battery chemists you know what the best-case storage is for a particular chemistry and cathode material, compared to what is available today. I don't think it is more than 10x aware and is probably much less.
That's very different than CPU scaling where you started out many billions of times away from the physical limits of the computational capacity of the material, and many trillions away from the theoretical physical limits of computation.
So no, thinner stuff isn't going to sustain a 15% annual increase in efficiency . In fact, I don't think think it will even sustain a single 15% increase from today until the end of time.
Of course, there are many other vectors along which battery efficiency can increase when the denominator is "cost", even if the storage/size doesn't increase much. You can increase manufacturing efficiency. You can introduce new form factors. You can tweak the chemistry. You can carefully match the required discharge characteristics to the application. Outside of the battery itself, you can improve charging and discharging algorithms, you can use finer-grained control over smaller groups of batteries, you can improve thermal management. However, these are just in the range of normal industrial optimizations that apply to any product. You can replace "batteries" with "lettuce" in the above and come with a similar list.
 To be clear, there is no 15% increase in battery efficiency per year, when measured by volume, weight or other physical characteristics: that stat must involve "price". Panasonic, the best and biggest Li-on player out there, has barely budged in efficiency on their headline battery, the 18650.
It is possible. In fact, I definitely expect to see new chemistries and anode/cathode materials appear.
The question is how much it will buy us.
Unlike other domains where theories or algorithms or medicines or whatever appear almost "out of thin air", the periodic table is limited and the mechanism of battery operation is well understood, so I think there is already a pretty good grasp on the possible materials that can be used, even in theory.
For example, Lithium is used for a reason, something like it's electron carrying capacity per unit weight. There are no other elements waiting to be discovered that are going to be better. Cathode materials are more complicated, but I don't think there is any order of magnitude improvement hidden out there.
Well it happened in the solar module market. And batteries are similar in many ways. They have a lot of government/policy support (rebate programs, pilot programs). Solar technology didn't change much during this period either (and in fact, the more advanced/novel technologies failed rather dramatically), a lot of the cost reduction was due to better manufacturing efficiencies and scale. I also think that because both of these technologies are older, they are less likely to be impacted by patents and monopolistic enterprises that can force prices higher. So that helps as well.
What is "it" that happened? If you are talking about sustained exponential cost reductions over a period of decades, like Moore's law, then maybe it did happen from a very high starting cost, but it won't continue.
Any market can undergo a rapid reduction in prices over a short period of time, as a product increases in adoption by one or more orders of magnitude.
You could fit an exponential curve to that growth, but ... it will almost never be sustained. The future is what we are talking about here.
Let's take solar modules as an example. From something like  prices have dropped from about $4.00/watt to $0.30/watt in 10 years. So that's a price drop of about 23% per year (each year is 0.77 the price of the previous). So today, at 30 cents/watt a 300W panel (the big ones you see on houses) is about $90.
If that is really a sustained exponential drop, those same panels will be $6.75 in 10 years. Possible? Yes. That said, I don't think you can find almost anything that big and heavy almost anywhere for $6.75. Maybe bricks or gravel or something, I'm not sure.
10 years later, those same panels will cost 50 cents. Possible? No way. You aren't going to ship a 300W panel anywhere for 50 cents. You aren't going to have space in your warehouse for something that big for 50 cents. You aren't going to be able to buy even the basic raw materials like glass and aluminum for 50 cents.
There's a common theme here: for something to scale exponentially, at a fixed size, every part of the process has to scale exponentially. The cost of shipping was irrelevant when the panels were $1,000, but it becomes pretty important when you are trying to ship something that weighs 100 lbs across the world or even a country and sell it for less than a dollar. The basic raw materials are a pittance with $500 panels, but they dominate the cost if you are trying to sell them for 50 cents.
The only way this exponential scaling works is if you can make something roughly the same size exponentially more efficient. That's that happened with CPUs. The CPU itself was more or less the same size for decades. They made them in similar fabs. There were some "traditional" efficiencies of scales thrown in, like moving from 200mm wafers to 300mm wafers, but the only thing that allowed exponential improvement was that the chips themselves became a million times more efficient without increasing in size or (mostly) the consumption of any raw material.
CPUs didn't scale up a million times by building a giant fab the size of a country, and using wafers miles across and mining silicon from the moon, which would be how a traditional process would scale up: they scaled up by becoming internally a million times more efficient.
Solar cells don't have that type of scaling available to them. There are hard limits on the efficiency (which is already above 20%) based on the physics involved - but even without any reference to cell physics there is a hard limit at 100% which means the efficiency upside is at most a one time 4x gain from here.
Oh come on! No one here, other than yourself, has tried to claim that exponential cost reductions will continue indefinitely. But it is a fact, that solar experienced that type of cost reduction for a period of 2-3 decades. It's very unlikely to continue on that trajectory, but it doesn't really matter because solar is now one of the cheapest forms of generation on the market at this point.
Batteries are in a similar position as solar was a decade or two ago. The grid operators desperately need storage capabilities, and li-ion is one of the more promising solutions, but it's still too expensive. But another decade of cost reductions can change that. No one knows for certain if it's possible, but like I said in my original post, no dramatic technology changes are really needed, just better logistics and scaling could be enough.
> Oh come on! No one here, other than yourself, has tried to claim that exponential cost reductions will continue indefinitely.
The OP did, which is what I was responding to. He mentioned the current exponential decrease in battery costs, and said "I see no reason for that not to continue".
They then drew a direct analogy to Moore's law to explain how such exponential gains can be sustained. I disagree.
Of course, even the GP probably agrees they won't continue "indefinitely" but my claim is that they can't even continue for very long (the higher the rate of cost reduction, the shorter it can be sustained).
> But it is a fact, that solar experienced that type of cost reduction for a period of 2-3 decades.
Kind of, there were certainly long periods of stagnation in solar panel costs, but also periods of large drops. It also depends how your pick your starting point.
One has to ask (as you did) whether today's batteries are more like the low-volume niche product of 70s solar panels, or more like today's solar panels. I'm willing to bet the latter, both because batteries have seen substantial investment to date (I'd wager much more than solar panels), and because the existing scale of battery manufacturing is already massive (c.f., gigafactory). Furthermore, there are no apparent revolutions in battery technology on the horizon.
So rather than being at the start of a precipitous drop in battery prices, I think we are somewhere near the middle, and the drops from here will mostly slow down not speed up.
That is a fair point re existing battery scale. However I would counter, that to date, the vast majority of that development and investment has gone towards batteries for small devices (phones and laptops, basically). Compared to utility scale battery packs (and to some degree electric vehicle packs), I imagine the manufacturing challenges are very different. For comparison, the battery in my phone is about 13Wh, whereas the Tesla battery in question is about 130MWh, 8 orders of magnitude bigger. And we have only very recently started building systems like that. While a 10x reduction in cost certainly might be a stretch, I wouldn't be surprised to see at least a 50% reduction in the next 5-10 years.
You might be right about these large scale systems.
Are they using significantly different technologies for the individual cells? I always found it weird that the large battery in a Tesla, for example, was just made up of thousands of 18650 cells that are probably smaller than the battery in your phone. Is the Powerwall is the same?
Does it get any different at larger sizes? Obviously stuff must be different outside of the cells, even if the cells are the same.
This is just based on my memory, but I think they use different battery chemistries but use the same cell size (18650). I also thought it was weird that they were using 18650's when I first found out about it, but I think the need for thermal management actually makes the smaller cell sizes ideal.
Of course this is also why I think there are some cost reductions on the horizon, as current EV and grid tied batteries are basically just a bunch of laptop batteries thrown into a fancy box.
> but I think they use different battery chemistries but use the same cell size (18650)
I also read something like that. I suspect it is more of a tweak than anything major. No doubt it is the same basic chemistry but perhaps with minor tweaks to the various ratios and material thicknesses and so on. The Tesla batteries are a single-application cell, so you know exactly the maximum discharge current, the maximum charge current, the temperature parameters, and so on, whereas a generic 18650 has to balance those for a "typical application" or whatever. See for example the Samsung high-discharge INR18650 cells which trade off capacity for higher max discharge current.
OTOH the other hand I also heard the early Teslas were using exactly the Panasonic 18650B cell. They could both be true: maybe it was a stock cell in the early days and they tweaked the formula later in concert with Panasonic as their volumes rose. There was no big evident spike in capacity vs weight though...
Manufacturing is rapidly scaling up. There is so much lithium available in the world (even commercially reasonable to extract from the ocean), that there is much room for per unit costs to decrease before you encounter lower COGS bounds (evaporation + transportation costs).
More importantly, a ton of lithium mined will be used for decades; when all of the Model S/X/3 battery packs are end of life (10-15 years from now), those modules are going to be remanufactured into stationary storage (or recycled entirely through a destructive extraction process, depending on degradation and next use case). This is similar to how your recycled pop can might end up in the aluminum used in a new light truck or an aircraft fuselage (edit: poor example; a better example would be automotive parts that are remanufactured and put back into service).
The smartest thing Tesla ever did was finance battery manufacturing using luxury vehicle margins (stoking demand with a sexy, desirable brand), and have those customers (including myself) finance the depreciation and capital carrying costs of those battery sleds they'll use again in the future. I am not a Model S owner; I am the temporary user of 100kw of energy storage, which will eventually make it's way into stationary storage where mobile energy density (ie pack degradation) isn't as much of a concern.
The smartest thing Tesla ever did was finance battery manufacturing using luxury vehicle margins (stoking demand with a sexy, desirable brand), and have those customers (including myself) finance the depreciation and capital carrying costs of those battery sleds
Panasonic and Samsung make Tesla's battery cells; Tesla simply assembles them together. For now they're the big kahuna because they've locked up output through contracts but when they don't control the primary input to their "biggest product" they're at the mercy of their suppliers and the market.
Well, they are not just another new kid in the block. When their goals are to mass produce electric vehicles; to make it a viable option in the market; to move the entire industry in a new direction; to create advanced battery production capability, in my mind they have been nothing but a resounding success.
I wish more people understood that lithium and aluminum are transported almost entirely around the world on tanker fuel before they're made into a product - and then it's STILL cheaper to make new batteries than to recycle them.
I don't know enough to say the true impact is different than the stated impact or anything like that. But I have my suspicions that something isn't what it seems with lithium production.
Something like 80% of a typical lithium battery cost is drying it in an oven before sealing. Lithium cost is about 5%, possibly less. The other materials involved actually make up more of the cost than the lithium.
> This is why Tesla is valued higher than GM, Daimler or pretty much any other car company.
I have heard a different theory from a friend working in finance. He said that most of a GM/Toyota car is made by suppliers, but Tesla does almost all the components of its cars by itself, capturing all the profits.
He said that most car manufacturers are actually only car assemblers.
Similarly, there are many PC brands like Lenovo or Dell, but they have to share their profits with suppliers like Intel/Nvidia/Samsung/Microsoft. Apple, also captures a lot of profits because they do not only assemble, they also make software and hardware.
At some point disposal will have to be priced in unless the hope for an economically viable (as in self-funding) recycling process somehow materializes, that so many people seem to conveniently assume to be an inevitable outcome of progressing time. Permanent dump & replace at cheaper and cheaper prices could end quite ugly.
Visited a local recycling facility. The costliest part is sorting+separating all the different materials. The costs for that alone literally dwarf every other stage of the recycling process, and it's not one that can be easily automated.
If you have a mass quantity of the same type of good, you can avoid most of these costs.
The raw materials are certainly valuable enough to be worth recycling, assuming it's not terribly hard to separate them back out from each other.
But suppose we never figure out a good way to recycle these batteries, and we just have to throw them all in a landfill and keep making new ones. Is that actually so terrible? There's nothing toxic in a typical li-ion battery, so basically we just have inert materials that were taken from the ground being put back in the ground. Mining for nickel/cobalt/lithium is not great for the environment, but the effect is pretty localized, so a "disposable battery future" is probably still highly preferable over the fossil fuel status quo where the entire planet is fucked.
>But suppose we never figure out a good way to recycle these batteries, and we just have to throw them all in a landfill and keep making new ones. Is that actually so terrible?
I mean... yea?
I don't know but I look back to the 2006 Jeep Wrangler being almost entirely recyclable steel and had an effective life of 40+ years if taken care of. Then I look to new cars using composites and lithium that WILL go into a landfill 20 years or less because they're just not fixable in the same way, it's cheaper to write off of an insurance claim than to fix.
It almost seems to me there is no free lunch, but that people like new and shiny and the company with all the tech is going to be popular with tech people.
In its lifetime, that Jeep will dump 100+ tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which spreads over the entire planet and is near-impossible to concentrate again. The impact of disposal of the car itself - a couple of tons of solids in a particular place - is not even close.
And if we're going to talk about people's irrational thought patterns about the environment... I nominate the idea that landfills matter more than atmosphere dumping, which seems to be based on the fact that landfills are more visible.
Nowhere in your analysis is the fact that the raw materials for these cars have to be mined and refined in a way that currently requires the burning of fossil fuels. It is not just the disposal of the materials themselves that is an issue.
I'm only guessing here, but the chemistry they use for Teslas battery cells seems to be developed in very close collaboration with Tesla. I wouldn't be surprised if they have an agreement that prevents them from selling the exact same chemistry to others.
The chemistry might also be finely tuned to work with their own battery management units, though I'm less sure of that.
The cells themselves are fairly standard cells. The secret sauce for Tesla has always been how they assembled them together and integrate with other components into the finished battery.
This is the same as Anker; they use the same lithium cells in their products as almost all of their competitors. Their secret sauce is assembly the cells together with other components to make the final products.
The "standard cell" would be without protection in the first place. It's not like the batteries materialize out the ether with protection circuits which are then removed for Tesla: the basic product Panasonic sells are the bare cells.
On top of those bare cells, third parties may add protection circuits, or maybe Panasonic does it themselves in some cases.
The cells are probably the hardest part of the system to manufacture. Damn near anyone can make a BMU (and they do), though there is a fair amount of effort needed to design a decent and affordable pack. Very few entities can make a decent lithium cell.
For small currents, yes. For the huge current spikes both in draining and charging, or the continuous massive loads of supercharging? No. Same for the actual science: figuring out a way to pull/push hundreds of amps to the pack while taking care that no single cell is overloaded/overheated or that faulty or degraded cells are taken care of.
No, making good cells is actually the hard part. The charging electronics is simple and easy. You can buy these ICs for cents from the usual suspects. Or does TESLA have some special, hard to circumvent, patent on the charging algo?
Making a BMS is by no means simple or cheap in the range of cents.
It's hard to make good cells, but creating a good BMS, designing an easy way to at fuse wires, creating cooling bands and figuring out how to do so on a huge scale is just as hard
The metals recycle well and very cheaply, with no need for human sorting like with plastics. Those make up the bulk of the material cost.
Graphite and lithium are the only things that aren't currently recycled. Lithium is too cheap right now- it makes up on the order of 1% the cost of a cell. It's more common than lead. We're very unlikely to have lithium supply problems. Compare the 7 billion tonnes of coal production, or 5 million tonnes of lead, to the 80 million cars sold annually. Mining in general can be scaled to far larger than anything car batteries would need.
Graphite is more of an issue. Battery graphite is very high quality spheroidal grains, roughly 55% synthetic and 45% "natural"- even the natural stuff goes through a huge amount of processing. Synthetic graphite can be made from anything, but natural graphite has slightly higher specific energy. Both types take a great deal of energy to manufacture, and natural spheroidal graphite would be a lot more expensive if not for Chinese and American coal.
Batteries are burnt as part of the recycling process, and even if they weren't there's no really good way to recover the graphite. So that probably puts a bit of a floor on li ion recycling savings. The elemental metals recovered are also not appropriate to directly turn into batteries, so they will probably get sold on the open market for lower profit.
The bottom line is that the only constraint on manufacturing batteries is the cost of energy.
> The lithium is not recycled, due to economies of scale.
That's part of it, but even if we had very large battery recycling operations it probably still isn't really worth it. It's not hard to get 90%+ recovery but the amount of lithium in a battery is ~3% by weight. Spodumene, one of the important lithium ores, is up to 8% lithium.
> Same for the graphite.
Graphite is more of a technical thing, it's pretty difficult to extract it and it's pretty worn down. The physical structure is very important to performance and manufacturing is virtually all of the cost of creating graphite- so having the actual raw material isn't worth all that much.
More than graphite, I'd actually prefer to see the organic materials in a li ion battery dissolved off and then distilled. That isn't economical though.
> There is no foreseeable shortage of either graphite or lithium, with the scale that we use it, and the scale that it can be found in the wild.
With any scale we could use it, there's no way we would run out. If we mined as much lithium as we do lead, we would have enough to make every car electric with ~200 kWh batteries and no recycling. And as I said, lithium is more common than lead.
> Are there any concerns to the mining of either element? I've seen some scare posts, but don't know enough about them to know if they were worth taking seriously.
Graphite is mined in the same places coal is, but very roughly 5 orders of magnitude less. It can also be created completely synthetically from any organic matter, same way they make charcoal or carbon fiber.
Lithium as it is currently mined is one of the least environmentally impactful extractions. It uses up a lot of groundwater which is a problem in some places, but it's more about it not being replenished properly. There's no runoff like there is with heavy metals in Africa. There's pretty insignificant land use. The chemicals used in purification are super benign- things like lime or acid, in millionths or billionths of global use. Brine mining means you don't need to dump any rock anywhere, there's no hole, there's no significant dust or blasting- it's just a very large water well.
This sounds alarming, but one difference I think is that a lithium batteries are not fuel in the sense that they are consumed immediately like gas/diesel. Of course they have a limited lifespan, but I read elsewhere that lithium batteries can be partially recycled for raw materials.
I'm also curious on this. My understanding is that common computer li-ion batteries basically expire after a few years. Whether you use them or not. Sorta sucks, as I used to buy spare batteries for laptops. Turned out, the spares would be as bad as the worn out one in the computer.
The anodes and cathodes of the cells tend to acquire a film of lithium and electrolyte oxides which reduce the coulombic efficiency of the cells, i.e. it makes it harder for the electrons to interface between the anodes and cathodes. I don't see a reason why we cannot extract the lithium from old cells for reuse, other than economic efficiencies of fresh lithium supply versus the cost of sorting, unpacking, and extracting from old batteries.
Yes, a big plus for lithium. However, demand and usage will only increase need for lithium out in the field and that could prove a bumpy curve and with all resources of a finite amount, we hit a plateau. Question is, will demand outstrip supply or will supply manage to maintain a pace that stays at least equal to that demand. It is with this in mind, that I call it the new oil.
And an intermediate step to ultimate recycling is that car batteries still have usefulness after they lose half their capacity (but not as a car battery). They can be used in say a storage system for home power. And this kind of recyling is already happening. Tesla has discussed this, and I believe other ev car companies are doing it already too.
Energy density has a fixed upper bound for any given battery chemistry: the amount of energy that would be bound/released if all of the material in the battery would participate in a cycle by turning from one state to the other and back. The amount of energy per reacting molecule/mol/kilogram is fixed and well known. Someone who is not as terrible at chemistry as me won't find or hard to come up with concrete numbers. And those numbers are hard constants, you can only come closer to them (within a given battery chemistry), they are impossible to exceed.
And another angle: our perception of energy density increase is heavily disturbed by the much faster reduction in cost, we are just not very good at telling those two apart.
The trouble is making the cell chemically stable with a way to get current in and out. We can't know what configurations we'll find where this works. Maybe tomorrow a catalyst that changes everything will be found and our batteries suddenly have the energy density of TNT.
I wouldn't get too comfortable owning business based upone Li-ion batteries, especially in long run. Li-ion can replace traditional combustion engines in some niche applications but is far away from completely replacing it. To me batteries feels like an intermediate step b/w engines and next energy source that's capable enough.
Batteries based businesses will do well for now but they should keep an eye out for new developments in energy sources for on time strategy changes.
False dichotomy. Batteries don't need to completely replace international combustion to have a massive impact. Right now they're superior for probably 60-80% of cases and that number is increasing rapidly.
> from 2025 onwards traditional internal combustion engines will not be able to compete on price with electric cars
We bought a 2 year old Leaf (30 KWh) recently after I worked out the TCO for it. Here's what I discovered.
We pay a lot of electricity here in Japan (I think it's about 30 cents per KWh where I live). So a full charge would cost us about $9 if we charged at home. Driving carefully we can get between 200-220 km on that -- so about 4.5 cents per km. Gasoline costs about $1.50 per litre and our old car had "mileage" of about 7 l/100km or about 10.5 cents per km (that's a lie because we have a 12 year old car -- it's really about 10 l/100km, but newer versions are near are more efficient, so I'll use that number). We drive about 1200 km a month (I say "we", but really it's only my wife -- I don't really like driving :-) ). So the difference is about $72 a month.
We also have to pay "shaken" here in Japan. This is a bit like the UK MOT. You have to get your car in essentially perfect running order every 2 years. It usually costs about $1000, or $500 per year. Because it's an electric car, the shaken costs are assumed to be small. We "prepaid" our shaken (i.e. bought insurance) for $200 for the next 4 years (or $50 per year). So that's a savings of $450 per year or $37.50 per month.
So rounding up, we're up to about $110 per month saved. On top of that there is almost no maintenance cost (oil changes, air filters, timing belts, etc). Let's say $120 per year saved (to make the math easy ;-)). So that's $120 per month.
But on top of that, we got this crazy deal from Nissan (or the government? or both? I'm not sure) where we get free unlimited recharging for 2 years and $20 per month after that. So that's a savings of $54 per month for the first 2 years and $34 per month after that (as long as we charge at the fast charging stations -- note, there are some negative implications for battery life for using the charging stations and it is a PITA to go and charge it all the time, so I'm not sure how true that savings will be).
Our previous car was a BMW 118i. The Leaf is every bit as good. If you turn the eco mode off, it has similar power (but of course a much nicer torque curve -- flat) so it's easy to pass or get out of trouble. In eco mode, it's a bit sluggish, but not really a problem 95% of the time. The Leaf has slightly better handling, but also slightly larger turning radius. Similar fit and finish. The Leaf seems slightly more spacious and has similar storage space. In actuality very similar cars in almost every respect, however the BWM is quite a bit more expensive.
So apart from range (which isn't a problem for us in any way), it's a pretty clear EV win for that kind of mid-size "nice" car. Probably it would be quite a bit closer if I were to compare to a Toyota Prius (especially in Japan where you can get a rebate), but I was amazed about how cheap EVs are now. It's pretty hard to match. If batteries come down in price, it will be impossible for sure.
Not sure how the numbers would work out in other parts of the world (especially in a cold climate), but it really is getting to the point where ICEs don't make sense any more.
I'm not sure if costs of cells are the dominating factor. My gut feeling would be that the power electronics/inverters and transformers are at least 50% off the cost off such a system. And inverter costs seem to be falling more quickly.
South Australia - where the battery is located - is an outlier in the Australian market due to its relatively progressive energy generation composition. It's worth noting the battery charge/discharge values depending on the market price of wholesale electricity. Arbitrage in action! :)
The application is open sourced and available here:
I always like these kind of plots. Is there an explanation why in the last week the energy price went negative last week in SA but they kept running gas turbines? Is that due to insufficient capacity in part of the net or some special kind of long term contracts or? I have encountered this before but its sometimes claimed that gas power can be modulated within minutes why not here, especially since they very likely where aware of the negative prices well in advance.
Yes, there are longer-term contracts, only a portion of the power is traded at the spot price.
That said, you would think that the gas generator company could just bid the load they've agreed to supply under the long term contract into the spot market when the price dips negative. I assume there is a good reason why this isn't done.
As an American living in the midwest, that map (while _excellent_) simply makes me sad. 60% of our energy comes from gas and coal. 30% comes from nuclear (I'm rounding in both cases). The remaining 10% comes from renewables (mostly hydro). It shows how much further we have to go in getting renewables to generate an actually significant amount of our energy.
I remember there being a day earlier this year where the prices for wind-generated electricity in west Texas flipped. If you have to pay people to take your electricity (instead of spinning a generator down), why not store it for a later demand period?
The amount of energy that is stored in batteries like this isn't that big in grid-scale terms. For example, on the night that Texas wind generation flipped electricity prices into the negative back in September 2015, their wind turbines alone were pumping out almost 11,500 MW of power. This has a capacity of 129 MWh. It's useful for grid stabilization because it can start up almost instantly and fill in the gap until another generation source which can run for more than the 90 minutes the battery lasts can start up, but less practical for longer-term storage.
(The 90 minutes capacity at full output is pretty much an inherent property of lithium battery tech, as I understand it. There's a slight capacity vs power tradeoff which can be tweaked, but only within a relatively narrow band, and the maximum charging rate is if anything even less flexible than the discharge.)
It doesn't make sense to store something for later unless the storage costs are lower than the cost of reproducing what you need. A few periods per year of negative prices won't be enough to offset the investment in batteries.
This is immediately viable anywhere you're operating an inefficient single cycle peaker plant. The longer your battery can discharge for (4 hour, 6 hour, 8 hour, 10 hour), the more likely it's able to replace a peaker duty cycle when called upon.
At least in Switzerland (Swissgrid loco), this is not true at all (for AS and frequency control)
The complete process is documented end to end, free to see, and the enroll process in documented and "cheap" (~150kCHF, 100kCHF being for the warranty). You can start playing in the ancillary services field with 5MW, which is not that much.
PS: If a company in CH needs help in that field (process approval or swissgrid-compatible IT systems), let me know !
The particular grid economics of Southern Australia are not reproduced everywhere else. It is all about the dynamics and regulations of the spot market, existing short term generating capacity, and the capabilities of the other market participants.
The batteries didn't "save" $40 million of electricity, they enabled one entity (Southern Australia's power operator) to trade more efficiently against the other participants, who were the losers in this battery deployment in the form of reduced profits.
It is beginning to happen in the US. Battery adoption on the grid has been slow because the utility companies like solving problems by building new generation plants (natural gas plants mostly) or by building new transmission lines. They have historically always done this and they make a guaranteed rate of return on this type of infrastructure. This has led to lots of un-needed generation capacity and expensive transmission projects passed on to rate payers.
Regulators in many states are now finally forcing utilities to examine the use of alternative solutions to fix grid issues. They are finding that battery installations can do a better job than new generation or transmission in many cases and the batteries can be cheaper over the long run. It's just a matter of getting the utilities to try something new and get out of their typical playbook.
I think part of the savings don't go directly to the battery owner, but instead prevent the electricity suppliers from price gouging the customer.
Happens a lot with renewables. You personally don't capture all the value you provide. This is part of the reason that rooftop solar should get paid more than the going rate but even 1:1 rates get attacked as some kind of scam, even as they reduce peak load which may be literally 1000x more expensive than average.
Nice! I had my solar panel installed on the roof of my house in 2015, and they have a pay-off projection of just over seven years. At the beginning of the year, my neighbor had solar panels installed, and we calculated his pay-off projection of just over four years (both of us took advantage of available subsidies).
Other automakers are limited in their offerings because they didn't commit with any enthusiasm until a few years ago, and the development time for a new car is at least that long. There are a whole bunch of new EV options coming to market in the next year or so.
But its not like battery technology is advancing so quickly, and prices dropping so fast, that this is only just becoming profitable.
Based on these figures this would have been profitable years ago.
The only plausible reason I can come up with is that the 'savings' are very hard to attribute correctly, but then I still cant explain why no one before today noticed the potential savings and took a chance.
Anyone with experience in the industry have any thoughts?
(a) It takes several years to plan a project and then build it. So, this decision was made years ago, not "today".
(b) Battery prices (and pricing for the balance of the system) have dropped pretty rapidly, I'm not sure why you're claiming otherwise. There have been recent years where these systems have dropped in price by ~25%. That's not insignificant.
By "that quickly" I was thinking orders of magnitude per year. This would have been competitive at 4 times the price.
Depending on the details it might have been competitive at 10 times the (battery) price.
Was the decision taken years ago? This is the 100 days or free battery. But yes I accept the power companies may have been slow. But still it isn't just Australia that was slow, its the US, Germany, Denmark, the world.
>This would have been competitive at 4 times the price.
Australia's high prices were not due to a technology failure, but a regulatory one. The power generators were manipulating the market causing extremely high peak prices, and essentially being allowed to get away with it. Most other countries don't allow the market to wildly fluctuate so much, so the payback is far longer. Think decades and not years.
And (B) is an issue. It's essentially deflationary economics. Why spend money now when it will be cheaper/more profitable next year? Once pricing on batteries stabilizes, you'll probably see more people willing to commit to big battery projects.
The old sunk cost fallacy strikes again. You invest today because by not investing you forego the savings in the mean time. That something would be cheaper next year is not a factor, only the current expected ROI.
The sunk cost fallacy is most often stated as, it isn't worth getting rid of something because you've already spent the money on it. Its unclear to me if this is an example of that. I agree with your general thrust though.
I worked on software for trading energy/transfer/balancing capacity in EU market a few years ago.
EU is pretty good in that regard, it demonopolized the energy market, so if you build this battery yourself on your land you can just entered the market and start selling balancing offers. You will easily outcompete traditional producers and consumers on that market if the article is right.
The widespread rule of thumb was - batteries on grid level don't work. Seems this isn't true anymore.
Also the biggest issue with consumer batteries is typically heat management. Industrial batteries with proper thermal control systems will exhibit much better lifespans than a typical iPhone. Thus you should adjust your expectations for these batteries compared to what you’ve seen in consumer electronics.
That's true and the reason that electric cars will work much better than most expected, with no need for a battery change during the life of the car. Here though part of the reason for the huge savings in one year is the market was in such dire need they've worked the battery hard. The return on investment is still stellar I'm sure, beating even the best initial estimates. But the battery will most likely not last as long as in the original estimates either.
Recycled lithium might cost 5x more. Not that the disposal cost of a battery is 5x the purchase price.
If the battery pays for its purchase price in 2 years and the disposal cost is 1/2 the price of a new battery (doubt it's anywhere near that), then the it would still pay for the total cost of ownership in 3 years.
From what I understand, used-up lithium batteries are fairly non-toxic and can be safely dumped in a landfill. Still not zero-cost, but probably about as low as you can get. And they can probably recover some of that cost by recycling some of the other metals from them.
I believe they experience all of those. But yes, there are many secondary uses, especially in situations where high energy density isn't required.
After the last economically viable use for electricity storage, however, there has to be an economic incentive to actually recycle the raw materials. Presumably this is when value of the raw materials exceeds the cost of their reclamation.
We are missing mostly production capacity. Also - what is the longevity of the battety? It may break even in two years time but if cells need to be recycled at the fourth year it may not be as good as it looks like.
The SoC window is not 0 to 100%, it's might be eg. 15 - 75 % or something. That's also why you don't notice battery degradation, since the window might be moving (keeping constant energy limits for 0 and 100% charged).
For kWh capacity it's just a matter of counting the cells. Actual kWh will vary abit by measuring technique but I assume there is a way to drain the nominal Wh:s from them.
That is good to hear as I typically only consider used cars and other than range, concerns about how the battery capacity holds up long term have kept me from really considering EVs. What do you drive? Tesla? Leaf? Something else?
It’s a Model S 85 with not quite 60,000 miles. From what I hear from other owners, this is slightly better than average but not much. I haven’t done anything special to treat it well, either. I charge it to 90% nightly (the default), charge to 100% before long trips, and have used Superchargers for maybe 20% of those miles.
Not sure what the parent drives but there are a number of variables to consider, for example with Tesla supercharing often will degrade the battery faster as will charing it in trip mode for the same number of miles driven, but there is a good amount of data out there for this car.
"But, overall, the data offer some basis for confidence that a Tesla Model S will lose—on average—less than 15 percent of its battery capacity over the average 150,000-mile (250,000-km) life of a vehicle."
Even if it is scrapped after four years, if it keeps generating this kind of savings for that period, it’s still a 600% return on capital. Turning $40MM today to $240MM 4 years from now is a deal any business would take in a heartbeat.
Are already delivering zinc-air batteries which have many advantages over li-ion with one huge disadvantage being low power density - not a problem for grid storage. AFAIK if you shorted such a battery it would bleed out its charge without much fanfare.
One dynamic that's underestimated in markets where the optionality of substantial non-marginal costs (CapEx, RegEx, etc) is amortized over volume (rather than optionality charges: access charges) is that a 10% decrease in use will never (in the long run) result in a 10% decrease in costs of the product. i.e. Consider a Crusoe economy, where you buy a magic box that supplies free electricity 99% of the time. Do your electricity costs (in the long run) go down 99%? No because the electricity supplier will now have to amortize all their costs over the 1% time when you need to buy electricity.
Regulation delays this (inevitable) blow up, allowing the magic-box seller to oversell the market before prices are allowed to adjust to snap down to what would have been the post-magic-box equilibrium without regulatory friction.
Electric-utility arbitrage batteries are basically physical call-option contracts: you pay a premium for the right to purchase electricity below market rate. The question for a firm assessing this gambit is, is the ratio of the premium to in-the-money(ITM) payoff time profile worth the premium.
I've often wondered if the plan is to use "worn out" batteries for this kind of thing. After 250,000 km, an electric car's battery might be down to only 80% of its original capacity, rendering it not ideal for cars any more. But grid scale storage doesn't care about energy per volume or per mass, so those old cells can be out to pasture for a few years before they are ultimately broken down.
I always heard that gravity was very poor for energy storage because it's such a relatively week energy. I haven't done the math so I'm not outright dismissing the idea but your article states:
>A 120-meter (nearly 400-foot) tall, six-armed crane stands in the middle. In the discharged state, concrete cylinders weighing 35 metric tons each are neatly stacked around the crane far below the crane arms.[...]
>The system is “fully charged” when the crane has created a tower of concrete blocks around it. The total energy that can be stored in the tower is 20 megawatt-hours (MWh), enough to power 2,000 Swiss homes for a whole day.
That seems like a huge hassle for a relatively meager storage. You'd need more than 6 of these to match Tesla's giant battery. Sounds like it would be an eye-sore too, but that's always a bit subjective. Maintenance-wise it could be rather tricky too, the article mentions complex systems to lift the blocks.
That thing is never going to be commercial viable. It doesn't have the energy density to be worthwhile, and comes with all the hassle that a moving mechanical system brings (maintenance etc). Plus I don't believe their 85% efficiency figure. That's ludicrously good.
Also most of the $40m/year saving of this battery is that it can respond in 100 ms which means they don't have to spend so much money buying electricity from other people when demand or supply changes suddenly.
That article says that one tower fully stacked is 20 MW, while the Tesla storage is 6 and a half times that. You can somewhat compare pictures between the articles to get a sense of scale.
Seems to me the Tesla system would have a much lower total cost of ownership as its a solid state system (and perhaps even construction costs - getting that much concrete in one place for the tower system would be a large expense). Plus the batteries can respond much faster and more efficiently to changes in electricity needs.
That's just a specific type of gravity battery. The primary issue is the low power to weight ratio. Consider that pumped water is also a gravity battery. Think of how much water is behind one of those dams.
Exactly. Ultimately all energy storage has to be in one of the four fundamental fields; we've not yet harnessed the "strong interaction", the "weak interaction" gives us fission and fusion, chemical storage is effectively using electromagnetism at the atomic scale, and gravity is the weakest of them all.
For sure weights stored on railcars on hilltops (no existing commercial installs I know of) ... or the already widespread pumped-water storage ... would take a few seconds to come up to speed (compared to the 100ms for the Tesla). So clearly the battery will always win in unplanned outages.
Near-term, the batteries will probably be more expensive (replacement) than well-maintained mechanical/gravity systems. Longer-term, upcoming battery solutions may erase that advantage.
The world energy market is huge, though and this is in one small area. It also seems like a pretty easy thing to evaluate the utility of - energy costs are public domain, and the way that the batteries work is pretty clear. Calculate the possible cost/benefit over the last year and increase until you're no longer willing to build more.
What is the recycleability of these things like? IIRC most batteries contain a bunch of rare earth metals and aren’t great for land filling. When these are worn out in 10-15 years how much environmental impact is there to replace / refurbish / recycle them?
> IIRC most batteries contain a bunch of rare earth metals and aren’t great for land filling.
That's incorrect. Batteries don't have any rare earth metals. You're thinking of cadmium telluride thin film solar panels, which have been replaced by silicon solar. They were a contender for cheaper solar panels, but it didn't work out in the end. They were also so terrible for the environment that they tainted the reputation of completely unrelated technologies.
> When these are worn out in 10-15 years how much environmental impact is there to replace / refurbish / recycle them?
It seems likely that the battery will last a lot longer than 15 years, but Tesla gives 15 years expected and 10 warrantied. Disposing of li-ion batteries involves shredding and burning them, which leaves behind a ceramic clinker (sold for concrete filler) and several metals (nickel, cobalt, copper, aluminum and steel in order of importance). Cobalt and nickel are the only hazardous materials and are fully collected since they're also the most valuable. Lithium is not cost-effective to recover; it's sold with the clinker.
The incineration process only gives off CO2 and water. This comes from the electrolytes and plastics being burnt. It's obviously not great and the heat isn't captured for use (AFAIK) but there's no other pollution and the net CO2 savings are still great.
Tellurium, like e.g. gold, is rare on Earth but not a rare earth element. CdTe panels aren't terrible for the environment either. They have a faster energy payback time than crystalline silicon. The cadmium doesn't leak out of the panel any more than arsenic leaks out of cell phone power amplifiers. But CdTe modules have lost ground to crystalline silicon panels because c-Si has reduced costs faster. There's just one significant producer of CdTe modules today, First Solar.
NiMH batteries do contain mixed rare earth elements (mostly lanthanum), but the particular elements used are fairly abundant. And of course NiMH batteries look like they can't keep up with lithium ion and will see their niche shrinking further.
Whoops, you're totally right- got my Chinese metals mixed up. 75% of US tellurium comes from China, and I must have gotten cross-contaminated.
> The cadmium doesn't leak out of the panel any more than arsenic leaks out of cell phone power amplifiers.
The actual cells are perfectly safe but the mining and manufacturing process is not. The extremely lax controls in China 20+ years ago aren't representative of the present, but they did do terrible damage and mining cadmium will always cause contamination.
> NiMH batteries do contain mixed rare earth elements (mostly lanthanum), but the particular elements used are fairly abundant.
Yes! That's what I had been thinking of, besides magnets obviously. Lanthanum is also notable in that it's used to make gasoline, along with cerium.
Does this also apply to batteries in electric cars?
I had an argument with my Dad the other week, he wasn't convinced by electric cars because of the battery disposal situation, complaining he finds it hard enough trying to dispose of a normal battery in a petrol car, so couldn't see the environmental benefit of electric cars
I didn't have a good response because I didn't know either.
Normal car batteries are filled with sulfuric acid and lead plates. Obviously, you can't just dump that.
The li-ion batteries that power EVs don't have acid. The majority of the chemicals are actually totally innocuous- the carbon, plastics, electrolytes and about half of the metals are downright boring. Steel, aluminum, copper, polypropylene, carbon- lithium was in all the water you ever drank. I wouldn't drink the electrolyte, but it's basically just fancy grease/oil. The only two dangerous ingredients are nickel and cobalt- they aren't as bad as lead, but they aren't good either. They're also the easiest to extract and the most valuable.
To recycle a battery, you dump it into a shredder and then into water. An electrochemical process is used to suck the metal off, a lot like how they plate metal onto things (but in reverse). The leftovers are strained out, ground, and eventually burnt.
IIRC at least the cobalt and nickel from lithium ion batteries are currently very recyclable, and in at least some cases it's actually cheaper to "mine" those metals from old batteries than it is to mine it from the ground.
I think the bigger problem is getting people to actually recycle them, which shouldn't be a problem with these larger batteries in cars and buildings. Already the auto industry is really good at "recycling" parts by selling "cores" taken out of a car for replacement which get rebuilt and resold later, so the logistics and incentives are all there for it, and many are already buying hybrid batteries and doing the same process for them.
They don't consume their materials. It's an energy storage medium, not a fuel. From what I've read the recycling yield is quite high, though not quite 100% due to that nasty second law of thermodynamics.
I imagine big utility-scale and car-size batteries are easier to recycle than the tiny cells found in laptops and phones. The latter tend to be less standard and due to their small size and exotic packaging are going to have more packing material and plastic vs. "good stuff" like lithium.
Ontario has one of the best and cleanest grids in North America, if not the world. Coal was completely phased out years ago, and dependence on gas-fired peakers is low.
South Australia has the cleanest grid in Australia (except Tasmania), with extensive wind generation, but does not have the nuclear and hydro resources that somewhere like Ontario can call on. Thus it depends, at times, on dirty, lignite-fired imports from neighbouring Victoria for balancing. By building more solar and battery storage over time, SA can reduce the need for imports (and expensive gas-fired peakers), making their grid even cleaner.
As an Ontarian, no one has been able to explain to me what our problems are.
We have moderately priced electricity that is very clean and reliable. If the rest of the industrialized world looked like Ontario electricity-wise, we'd be decades ahead of where we are in fighting climate change.
Honestly the concept here is not new, and the more I think about it the more likely I see levels of storage from fastest to slowest (and capacity in the same vein) ranging from batteries/capacitors to pumped storage systems. Between all of those they should be able to normalize the inputs into the grid I would think.
Seems like an interesting take on peak energy supply -- charging it up for "free" from renewable sources and discharging instantly when needed.
Edited for clarity: For people that are in the know regarding grid-level energy: is this the path of least-resistance for renewable adoption? I.e. Renewable+energy storage for peak demands, something else for baseline production?
I'm not sure what this question is really asking? Better ways to store it to match supply to demand?
In response to edit:
> is this the path of least-resistance for renewable adoption? I.e. Renewable+energy storage for peak demands, something else for baseline production?
This is a false dichotomy. There is baseline demand; on the other side the supply can be divided into dispatchable and non-dispatchable. Renewables can't be turned on by demand, so they're non-dispatchable. Perhaps surprisingly nuclear plants go in the non-dispatchable class; they produce a constant amount of power, apart from occasional month-long shutdowns for refuelling or maintenance.
The path of least resistance is to just keep adding more wind and solar, for the time being. A certain amount of highly dispatchable gas plants are needed to cover the difference. The tricky thing is working out how they should be paid, as they run less and less often.
The battery is then just another piece of dispatchable power generation, and can be paid to cover peaks.
Eventually we reach a point where the spread on the spot market between high and low prices becomes very wide: there will be times when electricity is being given away, and times where a plant is fired up a few times a year to cover midwinter. A good market for more batteries.
Around 2,034 MW of industrial solar was built in 2017 in SA.
More than 100MW of Solar was installed on rooftops from the time the battery was first discussed to the time the contract was signed. A lot more was installed after delivery.
This means that these sources, along with industrial efficiency and scaling, they are in effect a virtual battery installed more quickly, and more cost effective than the battery.
It is estimated that by 2023 the whole state can be powered by rooftop solar alone. The battery is good to suck up the excess wind power, and provide energy in times of need.
There's still lots of peaks the wind+solar combinations don't cover. Like high frequency trading, the batteries are able to act quickly to demand peaks outstripping supply.
However, most times this happens is on a hot day... and on those days it's extremely predictable. These are the times when gas wins. It's also the time when rooftop solar is the most cost efficient.
Around 2020-2023 rooftop solar will decimate the gas providers. The wind farm batteries will probably still be useful in these times however.
How long will that demand last? Will the prediction technology and dynamic industry power usage (including desalination plants) come online by then? What about smarter cooling technology? That's be rolled out too.
One of the states main industrial power users also has started building solar and pumped hydro. Reducing gas further. These molten pools of metal are very much like virtual batteries.
The wind farms have lots of excess sometimes. Well, that is being exported across state lines in these times. There's much more than can fill such batteries. Note that in times of excess wind, the gas is still burning at a less rate. Even though there's more than enough 'free' wind energy to cover their use. I expect this will change in time.
What about other wind farms coming online in other parts of the state? These are supposed to cover the current valleys in power generation too. If all of the wind that is under construction or planned comes online by 2023, that's more than enough to cover the needs of the state even at peak... let alone the valleys.
Electric car technology is expected to generate some demand, but mostly this will be charged with the excess rooftop solar/wind.
Large batteries like this are an important, but stop-gap measure. It's cheaper to build another wind farm in a very different part of the state which has the same effect. Because it can fill up the valleys in power generation where the batteries currently snipe good returns. Probably they would be cost effective to buy more in the next 1-2 years, if they can be installed much more quickly than wind farms (that often require approval, whereas the existing wind farms can be fitted out with much less of an approval process).
Not the first time I've read this kind of dismissive tone with respect to Electrek's articles on this site. Maybe if you have better facts or articulated opinions, you could share them?
Sure, they are biased, and quite openly so. It's quite obvious from looking at their site that they are not funded by the oil lobby and they are most likely somewhat concerned about such things as global warming and other tree-hugger stuff. It's not like they are being very secretive about that.
However, that does not discredit their articles or mean that they are wrong about stuff. They generally do a fairly decent job of separating their opinions from facts they are reporting, linking to source materials, quoting individuals, etc. Decent journalism in other words.
In this case they are reporting some simple facts, citing a few key people, and voice some opinions/interpretations that don't strike me as outrageous or unreasonable. There's no need for them to up sell/sugar coat this in any way.
Good disclosure, but as a regular reader of the site, I don't see a ton of bias in anything but the articles they publish and that they have sponsored links to amazon and whatnot. The content is overall quite good and relatively unbiased.
Electrek is generally one of the first sources to post about tesla crashes or things catching fire with the facts and then their own "take" towards the bottom. The guy who runs the site (Fred Lambert) also is extremely active on the r/TeslaMotors reddit community.