Renewable Energy: Anytime, Anywhere: Ravi Prasher

(applause) PRESENTER: Let me start
with a personal story. I’ve been a fan of fossil energy
since my childhood. I know it’s very polluting. That’s why we are here, we want
to have a renewable future. But there’s a reason that I’ve
been a fan of fossil energy. The reason is that fossil fuel
stores a lot of energy. For part of my life,
I grew up in India where there was
hardly any electricity, and one of the main reasons
I’m standing in front of you as a scientist is because
of fossil fuel kerosene. I could use it in a lantern
in the night and study. The reason I could do it is
because it stored so much energy and you could use it any time,
anywhere you want. One of the main reasons, apart
from the cost and other things, fossil fuel has survived
for so long as a technology is because of its ability
to store a lot of energy, and that gives you
significant flexibility. You can use it any time,
anywhere, whether it is rainy, shiny,
it doesn’t matter. Here in our country here,
we use it for heating our home, driving our car,
get our electricity. So the question is
can we do the same thing, can we get the same flexibility
with renewable energy? And why it is very, very
important is because we do not have any control
over renewable energy. First of all, there is
no sunlight in the night. Imagine a future where
you have a significant amount of your electricity is
coming from solar panels, what are you
going to do at night? That’s one big problem. The second problem is that,
as you can see on the graph, there’s a lot of fluctuation. The electricity that
comes out of the solar panel fluctuates a lot. That could be many reasons. It could be a rainy day, there are cloud covers
and whatnot. The question is what can we do to make renewable
energy on-demand? That requires
a significant breakthrough in storing energy
coming out of a PV panel or a wind turbine. There’s another reason
why we want storage. This is a data that I’m
showing you from California, came in the month of March. It is a matter of pride for us,
as Californians, that for a couple
of days in March, more than 50 percent
of the energy came from solar. However, during that time, the price of electricity
went negative. There were no takers. And that’s not an economically
viable technology, right? And the reason there were
no takers is because actually they use energy in
the later part of the evening and we generate most of
the solar energy around noon. So again, if we have storage
where we can store that energy, then we can imagine a future
where we can use it later, in the later part
of the evening. But the challenge
with storage is that, let’s say we want
on-demand flexibility, right? The on-demand ability of energy, we want it any time, anywhere. So today, with photovoltaic
panels, or solar panels, you don’t have the flexibility,
but the cost of energy is already compatible to
that we get from fossil fuel. However, if you put
a battery on top of it, to get this flexibility
or on-demand availability, then the cost of energy
goes up quite a bit. So the challenge
for the scientific community is how to develop technologies
to bring that cost down so that renewable energy
becomes very, very flexible and available any time we want. And that’s what we have
been doing at Berkeley Lab actually almost for 50 years,
more than 50 years. A lithium ion battery, which
a lot of you are familiar with, is used even probably
in all the computers and this, even
probably this clicker. The work on lithium ion battery
started in Berkeley in 1954 by Professor Charles Tobias and it just kept on
evolving from there and we have started doing quite
a few other different things. But the vision that
we have at Berkeley is discovery to devices. So discover new materials
and use those materials to make new storage devices. And one of the latest
and greatest things that we have started doing
in recent years is to start discovering
materials on computer itself. So rather than, you know, going
through a lot of experiments, time-consuming,
very expensive experiments, we can do many of these
experiments on a computer and figure out
the right kind of material which will give us the kind
of features that we want in a storage or a battery. We also synthesize
those materials. So we discover these
materials in the computer then make these materials
and then characterize them, understand the physics
and everything. And finally we make
devices to understand how these devices
perform in the real world. Are they going to
be reliable or not? So with all these things that
we are doing at Berkeley Lab, what we are hoping,
sometime in the future, as I showed you earlier, that there’s a significant
fluctuation in the power coming out of the PV panel
or even a wind turbine. Sometime in the future,
we will have a very nice control on this power coming out, and rather than power
coming out like this, hopefully we’ll have
a nice flat line of it so we can control
as much as we want. Thank you very much. (applause)


  1. It's a good point: "renewable energy" is NOT compared apples-to-apples with fossil energy; "renewable energy" PLUS battery/storage costs is the TRUE comparison price! We are fooling ourselves.

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