Can we afford storage? A dynamic net energy analysis of renewable electricity generation supported by energy storage
Global wind power and photovoltaic (PV) installed capacities are growing at very high rates (20% per year and 60% per year, respectively). These technologies require large, ‘up-front’ energetic investments. Conceptually, as these industries grow, some proportion of their electrical output is ‘re-invested’ to support manufacture and deployment of new generation capacity. As variable and intermittent, renewable generation capacity increases grid penetration, electrical energy storage will become an ever more important load-balancing technology. These storage technologies are currently expensive and energy intensive to deploy. We explore the impact on net energy production when wind and PV must ‘pay’ the energetic cost of storage deployment. We present the net energy trajectory of these two industries (wind and PV), disaggregated into eight distinct technologies—wind: on-shore and off-shore; PV: single-crystal (sc-), multi-crystalline (mc-), amorphous (a-) and ribbon silicon (Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS). The results show that both on-shore and off-shore wind can support the deployment of a very large amount of storage, over 300 hours of geologic storage in the case of on-shore wind. On the other hand, solar PV, which is already energetically expensive compared to wind power, can only ‘afford’ about 24 hours of storage before the industry operates at an energy deficit. The analysis highlights the societal benefits of electricity generation–storage combinations with low energetic costs.