Batteries C-H-A-R-G-E ahead

Batteries C-H-A-R-G-E ahead

Batteries C-H-A-R-G-E ahead

The future of planet earth depends on sustainable energy. At last we are beginning to realise that our earth-extracted energy sources are finite, lead to pollution and have been over-used. It has been a long journey from the days of my childhood when a magnifying glass converted the sun’s rays into a burning straw to solar panel farms in the desert. But we are getting there.

The resultant difficulty is that the source of sun and the place of energy need are far apart. Transporting the energy so bounteously produced presents a major problem. As those who have to carry water know the sweat is moving it from where you get it to where you need it. Humans’ increasing capacity to solve problems is, so far, happily running ahead of their creation by the increasing and ageing world population. So we have a chance to overcome this difficulty.

Battery development has been badly neglected in the past. Reasons were that it was assumed the technology was impossible and the demand was for small, disposable sources. It turns out that neither of these assumptions is correct. The major spur for this re-think is the advent of the electric car. To fire it by electricity produced by conventional fossil-fuel means is to defeat the purpose. The car running on autobahn roads is a long way from the Arabian solar system.

But storage prices are, we are told, dropping much faster than anyone expected, due to the growing market for consumer electronics and demand for electric vehicles. Major players in Asia, Europe, and the United States are all scaling up lithium-ion manufacturing to serve EVs and other power applications. Battery-pack costs were down to less than $230 per kilowatt-hour in 2016, compared with almost $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010.

So the battery technology is developing but we still have the issue of it being in the wrong place. Land transport is expensive and cable connection drains too much energy to be viable with battery power. We must look elsewhere for a solution. Where do we find cheap transport? Why, at sea of course. Headline in a magazine dealing with freight rates: “Surplus tonnage swamps charterers as lines return unwanted ships”*.

Perceived need: Giant battery packs cheaply transportable anywhere. Perceived resource: Unwanted freighter ships. Solution: Turn freighters into giant floating batteries.

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