Rapid performance improvements, falling prices and massive investment is accelerating us towards a time when batteries undercut fossil fuels for storage and despatch, right across the board, according to a report by Rocky Mountain Institute. The authors, Charlie Bloch, James Newcomb, Samhita Shiledar and Madeline Tyson have made forecasts for 7 battery technologies: the current leader Li-ion as well as Li-Metal, Li-Sulphur, Zinc, High Temperature, Flow, and High Power. Combined, they will impact the entire market, from virtually all types of e-mobility through to long duration grid storage, say the authors in this article. But they end by warning that these cost declines alone won’t be enough to meet climate targets. For that to happen infrastructure still needs to be built and markets created – everywhere – for everything from EV fast-charging to renewable-fed electric grids. And for that to happen investors, regulators, and policymakers need to move as fast as battery technology is.
The age of affordable battery technology is coming faster than experts previously thought possible. Thanks to massive investment, rapid performance improvements, and falling prices, breakthrough battery technologies are poised to revolutionise the way we power our lives and organise energy systems as early as 2030.
In the first half of 2019 alone, investors poured more than $1.4 billion into battery technology companies, bringing the reality of a global energy transition closer than ever. The manufacturing sector’s roughly $150 billion investment—combined with previous investments and those planned through 2023—is paving the way for renewables and electric vehicles (EVs) to revolutionise our energy system and play a vital role in addressing the climate crisis.
By 2023 capital costs will have more than halved
RMI’s latest report, Breakthrough Batteries: Powering the Era of Clean Electrification, shows that cost and performance improvements are quickly outpacing forecasts, as increased demand for EVs, grid-tied storage, and other emerging applications creates positive feedback loops for further investment and research, setting the stage for mass adoption. Now, analysts expect the capital cost for new battery manufacturing capacity to drop by more than half from 2018 to 2023.
This momentum is opening new markets, pushing both lithium-ion (Li-ion) and other battery technologies across competitive thresholds for legacy technologies faster than anticipated. That’s important because, although Li-ion remains the leading battery technology, alternative battery technologies nearing commercial readiness will be key to accelerating and scaling climate-critical solutions. For example, alternatives to Li-ion are likely better suited for applications such as long-duration energy storage, heavy trucking, aviation, and EV fast-charging infrastructure.
Li-Metal, Li-Sulphur, Zinc, High Temp, Flow, High Power
Currently, six other categories of battery technology have significant potential for achieving commercial production by 2025. (In the report, RMI lays out the commercialisation pathway for each, with notes on early entry applications through mass-market capture.)
Better than fossil fuel storage/despatch, soon
The future will include an increasingly divergent set of battery technologies and applications—and for good reason. Advanced battery technologies have the power to outcompete many fossil fuelled energy systems in the near term and can help us meet ambitious carbon reduction goals on or ahead of schedule. Several such market development opportunities exist and can be leveraged for vast environmental and economic benefits.
Cost declines alone won’t be enough to meet climate targets
Current investment, together with cost and performance improvements, has set this sector on a path to rapid success—but continued leadership remains key to fulfilling the potential. Investors, regulators, policymakers, and other energy industry players can stay in front of this shift by taking an ecosystem approach to supporting both investments in emerging technologies and demand for new battery applications.
A collaborative, systems-based approach to developing battery-enabled markets will be the key to achieving economic and climate-related goals alike. RMI’s report outlines key considerations and recommendations to help smooth the transition for both electric mobility and grid storage markets. By collaborating to support breakthrough battery technology success, energy industry leaders can have a meaningful opportunity to hasten the transition to resilient, clean, and affordable energy systems.
Breakthrough battery technologies may dramatically change the way we power our lives far sooner than many market actors realise. What part will you play?
Charlie Bloch is a Principal at Rocky Mountain Institute
James Newcomb is a Managing Director at Rocky Mountain Institute
Samhita Shiledar is a Senior Associate at Rocky Mountain Institute
Madeline Tyson is a Senior Associate at Rocky Mountain Institute
This article is published with permission. Copyright 2019, Rocky Mountain Institute