so the success of those technologies, since they are intermittent, will depend on the emergence storage technologies. Good progress is being made there as well.
As much of a proponent of technological progress trumping everything else as I am, the reality is, energy storage on the scale needed is, technologically, about as far away as, say, fusion. Without a nearby dam where water can be pumped uphill to store energy, there really is no way to store the kinds of energy we are talking about. We are talking about GW quantities of power stored over a day or so timeframe, minimum. That's on the order of about 100 TJ to backup the amount of energy that a large powerplant produces in a day.
The most advanced rechargeable batteries have about 1 MJ/kg of energy density (that's already a stretch beyond any real commercial battery suitable for a high power application by quite a bit). So you would need 100,000 TONS of advanced Li Ion battery to provide energy storage backup sufficient to replace one base load coal/oil/nuclear station for just one day, which would be necessary with power provided from an intermittent source. At the present costs of lithium batteries, that's about $14 billion dollars worth of batteries. Not to mention that amount of lithium simply isn't available. That's $14 billion for each 1 GW of dirty power you want to shut down. To replace all the world's dirty energy, 13 TW, with wind/solar backed up by energy storage, would take $180 trillion, and would take more lithium for batteries than exists in the Earth's crust.
The economics for other energy storage schemes, when scaled to the necessary sizes, don't look any better. People talk about ultracapacitors, but those have a lower energy density than the above mentioned batteries and a far higher cost. People talk about mechanical flywheels, but for the necessary scales, you can only do it with maglev ones that use superconducting magnets... again, the costs are too high by many orders of magnitude. You can store energy by electrolyzing water and reacting it back in fuel cells, but that entails huge efficiency losses, and, again, vast expense.
Even if you assume exponentially accelerating progress in energy storage technologies, entailing breakthroughs in applications of nanotechnology for energy storage, it will be decades yet before they are at the level they need to be to eliminate the need for backing up intermittent power sources with base load power sources. But if the progress does accelerate that way when it comes to energy technologies, then we'll have fusion anyway by the time these technologies are ready.
Edited by Bonam, 07 July 2011 - 10:19 PM.