Swiss start-up, Energy Vault, offers a complimentary energy storage solution to traditional battery arrays and hydroelectric dams. It simply stacks concrete blocks when there is excess electricity, as is often the case with intermittent renewables such as wind and solar, and then releases the blocks to the ground when power is required. This storage of gravitational potential energy could provide the opportunity for countries not blessed with mountainous topography with a new form of fast response power generation akin to traditional hydroelectric dams. Moreover, the physical infrastructure is relatively simple and commonplace globally so this technology is not just constrained to developed countries.
Demand for energy storage will only increase as renewables become a larger proportion of our energy generation portfolio. However battery storage could face challenges in being able to sate this demand on a global scale for a number of reasons. Specifically, battery raw materials are typically in discrete concentrations across the globe and not always in the most geopolitically stable countries. Also there is a potential for battery manufacture being dominated by the early first movers in the market, such that a monopoly develops. Finally the growth in the electric vehicle (EV) market could see manufacturers buying a large proportion of battery output in the coming years. Considering these forces as a whole could lead to a tightening of the battery supply chain and therefore the potential for innovations, such as Energy Vault, to become a disruptor in the energy storage space.
When a solar farm produces extra electricity during the day, giant cranes use that energy to lift and stack the bricks, storing energy through the elevation gain. When the energy is later needed, software tells the system to lower the bricks, and that spins generators to send electricity back into the grid. The system can respond within a millisecond.