The groundbreaking new storage technology
Dr Kevin Moriarty has had a lot of experience in Australia’s mining sector before he saw an opportunity to move into energy storage and now heads up 1414 Degrees who are supporting the uptake of silicon thermal energy storage.
Dr Moriarty said there is currently no implementation of silicon thermal energy storage in Australia yet, as it’s a new technology, but one he says is ‘groundbreaking’.
“There’s nothing quite like it in that it brings together a number of aspects of the common industrial applications, especially high temperature ones, and puts them together in a new way. So it’s using common things, but not in this combination.
“It’s not even in use anywhere, because it is literally groundbreaking,” Dr Moriarty said.
Comparing energy storage
Silicon thermal energy storage systems store energy as latent heat in molten silicon. It delivers both heat and electric power and can be dispatched on demand. It’s this heat that Dr Moriarty said is more important than people realise.
“What we’ve been finding as we’ve gone into industry is that, on average, two-thirds of industries requirements are heat, one-third is power. But many industries…use 15 times the amount of heat than they use power.”
With the significant increase in the number of large scale batteries and pumped hydro projects in Australia, and in particular, South Australia, it’s clear there is a need for energy storage to help increase the efficiency and reliability of the grid and reduce the risk of blackouts.
But why look to thermal energy storage when we already have other forms of storage that work?
“Well there’s a number of deficiencies to storage. Pumped hydro, which is very much in the news at the moment here in South Australia and Australia in general, in fact, is very useful for long-term storage, seasonal storage and so on, but you can’t put it anywhere, it’s got to be located somewhere where there’s mountains and plenty of water, and so on. So you’re quite limited in location. It’s also relatively expensive, and possibly environmentally challenging to set up,” Dr Moriarty said.
“Batteries don’t like being over-cycled. So the trouble with lithium batteries is they’re great for short-term fast-frequency response. The more you use them, the more they decline in capacity.”
“What the thermal energy storage system does, is it can be located anywhere, it’s very compact, more compact in fact for energy storage than batteries [and] it has a very long life. In other words, the more you cycle it, preferably daily, the better it likes it. It’s a very robust new solution to energy storage.”
It comes down to economics
The rise of energy storage has come from the increase in renewable energy sources, which are inherently intermittent. While renewables have created forms of distributed generation, energy storage can help to reduce demand on networks and ensure that a backup supply is in place.
“With the rise of renewables we have distributed generation now, so you’re less dependent on any [one source], so that’s a positive. But on the other hand, if you can distribute storage through the grid as well, then you no longer have the exposure to any one big outage,” Dr Moriarty said.
Dr Moriarty said that while grid reliability is the goal, economics also play a big part.
“I don’t think multi-billion-dollar schemes are going to cut it, if their impact is felt in people’s taxes, or their electricity bills, or energy in general, in fact, because gas is very highly priced too. So when we looked at this, we realised that the silicon thermal energy storage system had the lowest levelised cost of storage of anything else out there. I’m talking pumped hydro, and batteries, flywheels, and so on.”
Future of the grid
Dr Moriarty said silicon thermal energy storage will only get more compact over the next few years and become more common in the sector. When it comes down to it, he says that people just want their networks to not be an issue of debate, but rather one that isn’t given much thought.
“What you want is a grid, a network, electricity network, that works without people having to think about it, largely. Most of us want to turn on the lights, all of our machines at work, or know our refrigerators and freezers are going to stay on.
“So we need low-cost, reliable things that operate in the background, and people don’t have to be thinking about them. We should hopefully get back to a grid that operates without a huge amount of fuss,” Dr Moriarty said.