Alphabet Pushing Envelope on Renewable Power Storage

About 4% of all wind energy from Germany were jettisoned in 2015.About 4% of all wind energy from Germany were jettisoned in 2015.

Alphabet Inc's secretive 'X' company, which hatched Google's driverless car almost a decade ago, is working on an advanced system for storing renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted. The research lab, owned by Google's parent company, says the new system, can be located almost anywhere, has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and compete on price with new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods, Bloomberg reported.

In renderings, viewed by Bloomberg News, the system looks like a miniature power plant with four cylindrical tanks connected via pipes to a heat pump.

X says it can vary in size from roughly the dimensions of a large garage to a full-scale traditional power plant, providing energy on demand to huge industrial facilities, data centers or storage for small wind farms and solar installations.

The previously undisclosed initiative is part of a handful of energy projects at X, which has a mixed record with audacious "moonshots" like Google Glass and drone delivery.

Venture capitalists, and increasingly governments, have cut funding and support for technology and businesses built around alternatives to fossil fuels. X's clean-energy projects have yet to become hits like its driverless cars, but the lab is not giving up.

"If the moonshot factory gives up on a big, important problem like climate change, then maybe it will never get solved," said Obi Felten, a director at X. "If we do start solving it, there are trillions and trillions of dollars in market opportunity."

Existing electrical grids struggle with renewable energy, a vexing problem that is driving demand for new storage methods. Solar panels and wind farms churn out energy around midday and at night when demand lulls. This forces utilities to discard it in favor of more predictable oil and coal plants and more controllable natural gas units.

About 4% of all wind energy from Germany were jettisoned in 2015, according to Bloomberg. China throws out more than 17%.

In the first half of this year, California tossed out more than 300,000 megawatts produced by solar panels and wind farms because there is no good way to store it. That is enough to power tens of thousands of homes.


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