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No wind or sun? There’s a battery for that

How lithium iron batteries support the renewable energy sector

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South Africans joined the rest of the world in marking last week’s World Earth Day to the backdrop of an electricity grid that is still under immense pressure and still dominated by coal, despite large mining houses announcing divestment in the fossil fuel source.

While there are positive moves in the country around renewable energy investment and generation, there is also a marked uptick in business and private investment in sustainable energy solutions to give them some level of energy independence but there is a need to educate the public on just how energy from renewable sources is stored, says Revov MD Lance Dickerson.

Revov supplies first life and second life lithium-ion batteries in South Africa and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. The company has gained widespread recognition through its second-life batteries, which are built from repurposed electric vehicle (EV) batteries. After a few years, an EV battery must be replaced as its weight doesn’t justify its performance. Ordinarily, these end up in landfills.

Dickerson says: “We said from the beginning – what is the point of supporting something good like e-mobility if the after-effect is yet more damage to the environment? Rather repurpose the cells to supply lithium power to the renewable energy and uninterrupted power supply (UPS) market in Africa.”

He says that a common misconception in the general population about renewable power is that the sun constantly needs to be shining or the wind needs to always be blowing for it to be a viable investment.

“While it is true that solar generates power when the sun is shining and turbines when the wind is blowing – it is the battery that stores this power for continued power supply,” says Dickerson.

This makes batteries, and the choice of batteries, vital in the discussion of getting the most out of renewable energy, especially if the motivation is to contribute to lowering our carbon footprint, he says. There are an array of lithium-ion batteries, which by the nature of their chemistry, make them very appealing to be used with renewable energy installations. On this front, for example, Revov has various first and second life batteries that are each designed to deliver the best performance in various environments.

One of the common criticisms about renewable energy is that it is unreliable precisely because of the unpredictability of nature. Renewable energy is collected using wind or solar devices that are installed for that purpose.

Says Dickerson: “In simple terms, a renewable energy system that relies totally on alternative energy production without energy storage in place is interrupted by cloud cover or a lack of wind. The system cannot supply energy to the load, unless it is capable of augmenting the renewable supply with either some grid supply or some battery power.

“To be able to power loads reliably it is important to have reliable continuous power which is supplied continuously regardless of the state of the renewable supply.

“The most effective way to do this is to store the energy in a storage system which will allow the energy to be used to supplement the irregular supply from the renewable side. So when there is good renewable supply, store the excess in batteries, and then when supply reduces use those batteries to supplement the supply and provide a continuous level of energy.”

Usually businesses or individuals don’t have much information on the types of batteries that installers suggest when they invest in their own renewable energy sources, such as solar.

“This is why it is imperative for us to educate both the installers and the general public on lithium-ion, and why and how it has surpassed traditional lead chemistries.”

There are a number of variables that go into choosing the right type of battery. These include the charging time – first life LiFePO4 batteries, for example, can be charged up to five times faster than traditional lead chemistries, weight of the battery system and longevity and safety. 

“Every battery has a lifespan based on the number of charge and discharge cycles it can support. Again, if we use the LiFePO4 lithium-ion batteries as an example, they can go through 6,000 to 7,000 cycles compared to the 1,000 to 1,500 cycles in traditional lead batteries.

“The point is that by educating both installers and the public about the performance of lithium-ion batteries, that they are not only more environmentally sound than traditional batteries but also by being fit for purpose they alleviate a lot of the hesitancy around investing in renewable power.”

He says there needs to be an understanding that how one stores power in a renewable set up will ultimately play a massive role in determining the return on investment. As lithium iron becomes more well-known, he hopes the public will redouble its efforts in advocating for renewable energy, both on a national level and in smaller projects in their businesses and homes. 

“Our planet depends on it.”

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