Store all the things: clean electricity means thermal energy storage boom

Thermal energy storage has been a difficult place for climatetech in years past. The low cost of fossil fuels (the source for vast majority of high temperature industrial heat to date) and the failure of large scale solar thermal power plants to compete with the rapidly scaling solar photovoltaic industry made thermal storage feel like, at best, a market reserved for niche applications with unique fossil fuel price dynamics. This is despite some incredibly cool (dad-joke intended 🔥🥵🤓) technological ingenuity in the space.

But, in a classic case of how cheap universal inputs change market dynamics, the plummeting cost and soaring availability of renewable electricity and the growing desire for industrial companies to get “clean” sources of industrial heat has resulted in almost a renaissance for the space as this Canary Media article (with a very nice table of thermal energy startups) points out.

With cheap renewables (especially if the price varies), companies can buy electricity at low (sometimes near-zero if in the middle of a sunny and windy day) prices, convert that to high-temperature heat with an electric furnace, and store it for use later.

While the devil’s in the details, in particular the round trip energy efficiency (how much energy you can get out versus what you put in), the delivered heat temperature range and rate (how hot and how much power), and, of course, the cost of the system, technologies like this could represent a key technology to green sectors of the economy that would otherwise be extremely difficult to lower carbon output for.


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