Are lithium batteries a solar storage game-changer?

The wonders of solar and wind power are incredibly promising, but the true barrier to effective energy use is the actual storage.

When the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, the battery takes center stage. Therefore, making energy storage systems as efficient as possible has taken over the labs and minds of researchers around the world.

Giving a new perspective to your mother’s assertion that it’s what’s inside that counts, researchers at the University of Southampton believe it’s perhaps most true when talking about batteries. 

Their research presents a compelling argument that lithium batteries are the clear choice over traditional lead acid batteries for storing the sun’s energy in photovoltaic systems.

Through a collaboration between the University of Southampton and lithium battery company REAPsystems, researchers connected REAPsystems’ LiFePO4 battery and management system to the photovoltaic system on one of the university’s buildings. The results were quite promising.

“The research showed that the lithium battery has an energy efficiency of 95 per cent whereas the lead-acid batteries commonly used today only have around 80 per cent,” graduate student Yue Wu, the research team leader, said in a statement.

“The weight of the lithium batteries is lower and they have a longer life span than the lead-acid batteries reaching up to 1,600 charge/discharge cycles, meaning they would need to be replaced less frequently.”

After their findings, the team has good cause to celebrate. A battery that is more efficient, lasts longer and costs less seems like a no-brainer for the solar industry, with potential for other renewable energy source storage.

While more testing is required before the battery can be put into commercial use for solar systems, the team is optimistic of the battery’s potential to improve efficiency of solar systems, as well as reduce the cost of the installation and maintenance.

Wu’s supervisors on the project, Carlos Ponce de Leon and John Low will carry the torch forward and continue the project with a new cohort of master’s students.

* Angeli Duffin, EarthTechling