BY PAUL WESSLUND
If your smartphone battery has become a large share of your daily thoughts, just wait because the battery market is booming. Innovators are now developing washable and bendable batteries to heat your gloves or be sewn into athletic wear to help track your exercise routine.
Electric utilities use batteries for slightly more practical reasons – to make electricity more reliable and more compatible with renewable energy sources. Also, the booming electric vehicle (EV) market has been made possible by dramatic advancements in battery technology.
Analysts estimate the world battery market value at more than $100 billion and project it will grow more than 10% annually over the next five years. People need batteries for their phones, laptops, power tools, watches and EVs. They want them to last longer. They want them smaller. They want them cheaper. And researchers and entrepreneurs are busy meeting those demands.
“Big game” ads
EVs – which run on large, rechargeable batteries – are a leading example of the trend. Ten years ago, there were hardly any EVs on the road. In 2020, EV sales hit 3 million, and now there are 10 million on the road worldwide and that growth is expected to continue.
Six of this year’s ads during the NFL’s big game featured EVs. Manufacturers worldwide plan to spend more than half a trillion dollars on EVs and batteries in the next eight years. In the U.S. alone, 13 EV battery manufacturing plants are expected to open in the next five years.
The battery bandwagon brings strong incentives for investments to make batteries even stronger. This cycle of innovation is cutting battery costs too. The price of the most popular type of rechargeable battery is down more than 90% from what it was 10 years ago.
Batteries aid renewable energy use
Utility use of large batteries adds efficiency and reliability to the nation’s electric grid.
Utilities, including locally owned electric cooperatives, use batteries in several ways. They can smooth out voltage and frequency differences that damage equipment and affect power quality. Batteries can also make better use of the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources. By storing excess solar energy produced during the day when electric demand is low, batteries can make that sun power available for use at night when electric demand is high.
Utility-scale battery capacity jumped 35% in 2020, tripled in the past five years, and by 2023, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports electric utilities will have 10 times the battery capacity they had in 2019.
EIA reports that much of that increase comes from battery systems located near large solar projects, making it easier to store electricity produced by solar panels.
One especially innovative use of batteries came in 2020 when a heatwave strained California’s electric supply. The state’s energy manager asked businesses and homeowners with batteries to supply emergency power. More than 30,000 responded, including backup power owners and EV charging providers.
Whether used for making electricity more reliable or a fun new gadget to track our fitness habits, battery technology will continue to play a major role in our future.
Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives.