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Are renewables and batteries part of the power generation & storage solution?

By Geoff Carmody - posted Thursday, 9 November 2017

What is a battery? They're everywhere!

We all know what a battery is, right? There are little cylindrical, rectangular, and pill-shaped ones. We put them in torches, remotes, mobile phones, tablets, laptop computers, etc. There are bigger ones we use in cars. There are still bigger ones we use for off-grid homes, and, increasingly, homes on the grid. There are industrial-scale ones used to support electricity grids (just ask taxpayers in SA).

These are modern versions of the 'voltaic pile', invented by Alessandro Volta and others around 1800. Demand for them is taking off.


Humans have developed other batteries. Some water heaters are effectively batteries, in part. Rainfall stored at a higher level (potential energy) can drive generators as it flows to lower levels (hydro kinetic energy). We can even recycle water between higher and lower dams to achieve a form of renewable energy (pumped hydro). The Commonwealth Government seems keen on this quite old concept (eg, 'Snowy 2.0'). We can use the sun to melt salt and use that as a store of energy to make steam to drive generators. The SA government is keen on this 'thermal solar'.

But Volta and co were latecomers. We've long enjoyed natural battery power. Be careful about contacting an electric eel. It could be shocking.

Over millions and billions of years, nature has produced huge batteries spread all around the world.

Photosynthesis plus decay plus geological storage manufactured massive batteries available to be discharged. We call them fossil fuels, increasingly with a pejorative tone. Exploding stars over the eons disgorged heavy radioactive elements, producing terrestrial nuclear fuel batteries. These have a mixed reception globally. We're happy to use nuclear fusion (when called solar power), provided it's sourced nearly 150 million kilometres away in the sun. Wind power depends partly on solar-induced temperature differences.

Some batteries are discharged fully with one use. Others can be used more than once.

Wood's a battery, when burned. So's food, when consumed. Both are renewable.


In the most general sense, batteries are means for storing energy for use later. They're ubiquitous.

Life literally couldn't exist without them.

Extracting energy: energy density realities

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About the Author

Geoff Carmody is Director, Geoff Carmody & Associates, a former co-founder of Access Economics, and before that was a senior officer in the Commonwealth Treasury. He favours a national consumption-based climate policy, preferably using a carbon tax to put a price on carbon. He has prepared papers entitled Effective climate change policy: the seven Cs. Paper #1: Some design principles for evaluating greenhouse gas abatement policies. Paper #2: Implementing design principles for effective climate change policy. Paper #3: ETS or carbon tax?

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