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How safe are utility-scale energy storage batteries?

How safe are utility-scale energy storage batteries?

Preface.  Airplanes can be forced to make an emergency landing if even a small external battery pack, like the kind used to charge cell phones, catches on fire (Mogg 2019).

If a small battery pack can force an airplane to land, imagine the conflagration of a utility scale storage battery might cause.

A lithium-ion battery designed to store just one day of U.S. electricity generation (11 TWh) to balance solar and wind power would be huge.  Using data from the Department of Energy (DOE/EPRI 2013) energy storage handbook, I calculated that the cost of a utility-scale lithium ion battery capable of storing 24 hours of electricity generation in the United States would cost $11.9 trillion dollars, take up 345 square miles, and weigh 74 million tons.

And at least 6 weeks of energy storage is needed to keep the grid up during times when there’s no sun or wind.  This storage has to come mainly from batteries, because there’s very few places to put Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES), Pumped Hydro energy storage(PHS) (and also because it has a very low energy density), or Concentrated Solar Power with Thermal Energy Storage.  Currently natural gas is the main energy storage, always available to quickly step in when the wind dies and sun goes down, as well as provide power around the clock with help from coal, nuclear, and hydropower.

Storing large amounts of energy, whether it’s in larger rechargeable batteries, or smaller disposable batteries, can be inherently dangerous. The causes of lithium battery failure can include puncture, overcharge, overheating, short circuit, internal cell failure and manufacturing deficiencies.  Nearly all of the utility-scale batteries now on the grid or in development are massive versions the same lithium ion technology that powers cellphones and laptops.

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