Lead batteries: essential energy for a greener world
The huge increase in demand for safe and reliable batteries to store energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind heralds a new lease of life for advanced lead batteries. One of the companies in our innovation and research programme, is responsible for one of the highest solar farms in the world, on a plain 4,700 metres above sea level in Tibet. It is helping generate the clean energy required to satisfy China’s burgeoning demand for electricity. This sun-drenched farm is part of a growing phenomenon where a 150-year-old technology, the lead battery, is becoming one of the most reliable solutions to the problem of storing and supplying the energy of the future. While lead batteries are more commonly associated with the technology under the bonnet of your car, starting the engine, powering the safety features and electronics, it is also one of the cleanest and most reliable options available in the green energy revolution. In Tibet, with up to 14 hours of sunlight a day in the peak months between April and July, the plant run by China Shoto, part of the Shuandeng Group, uses lead batteries housed in containers on site producing 30-megawatts of solar power supported by 20 MWh of energy storage.
By choosing advanced lead battery technology, the company argues it is able to offer reliable, safe and long-lasting storage for up to 10 years, switching supply on or off according to the requirements of the grid. The system is being replicated globally with projects in the United States, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and across south east Asia, which are quietly changing the face of energy storage. Analysts predict the world-wide scale of the market in renewable energy storage will vastly outweigh the supply of current technologies, be it lithium or advanced lead battery technology. We are already seeing game-changers emerge, including energy storage batteries from companies offering extended lead battery cycle life, from between 3000 up to 5000 deep cycles, offering longer life and greater reliability, at a reduced cost. The choices energy companies make will be driven by price, safety, reliability and sustainability. The growing debate about the recycling of batteries, and in particular the source of materials used in their production, are becoming more pertinent.
In Europe and the US lead batteries already enjoy one of the highest recycling rates of any products, almost 100% of all lead batteries are collected and fully recycled at the end of their life, so that the majority of the lead used in the latest generation of lead batteries has already been recycled. As governments grapple with the policy implications of eliminating greenhouse gases and creating a non-toxic environment, it is the latest application of an older technology, one which has stood the test of time, which is set to help propel the renewable energy revolution forward.