Lithium-ion cheapest way to store electricity ‘by 2050’

Lithium-ion batteries will be the cheapest way to store electricity by 2050, according to a new study.

The new research, published this week in Joule by researchers at Imperial College London, calculates the future cost of storing energy with different technologies, including large-scale batteries and pumped-storage hydroelectricity.

Their findings revealed that lithium-ion has the lowest ‘levelized cost of storage’ – which is the full costs of storing energy including investment, operation and charging cost, as well as technology lifetime, efficiency and performance degradation.

Lead researcher Oliver Schmidt, from the Grantham Institute and the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: ‘Our model is the first to project full energy storage costs into the future, allowing predictions of which technology will be most competitive in a particular application at a particular time.’

Their model shows that at present, the cheapest energy storage mechanism is pumped-storage hydroelectricity, where water is pumped to a higher elevation with spare energy, then released to harvest the energy when needed.

However, as time progresses, pumped-storage hydroelectricity costs do not decrease, whereas lithium-ion battery costs come down, making them the cheapest options for most applications from 2030.

Schmidt added: ‘Our projections show that lithium-ion technologies will see a rapid decline in costs over the next couple of decades. This is driven mainly by the fact that lithium-ion is manufactured at scale.

‘The resulting reduction in initial investment costs is more significant than for other newer technologies such as flow batteries and flywheels, potentially outcompeting any performance advantages of these newer technologies.’

Dr Iain Staffell, senior author on the paper from the Centre from Environmental Policy, said: ‘We have found that lithium-ion batteries are following in the footsteps of crystalline silicon solar panels.

‘First-generation solar cells were high performance but very expensive, so cheaper second- and third-generation designs were developed to supersede them. However, sheer economies of scale mean these first-generation panels now cannot be beaten on price.’

The team at Imperial College have made their model open access, allowing consumers, academics, industry and policymakers to run their own simulations with the data for specific applications.

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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