The vision of a clean-energy future — where wind turbines and solar panels are knit into a new kind of power grid — hinges on a humble savior: the battery. Giant versions of the same technology that powers toothbrushes and smartphones are being plugged into electrical systems at breakneck speed, forming a critical part of plans around the world to fight global warming. The scale of the effort is daunting: Meeting the battery needs just for California’s green energy buildout, widely considered a global test case, will require five times the world’s current capacity of utility-grade electrical storage.
Because relying on renewable energy means storing power for when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind isn’t blowing. Utilities are also deploying batteries to replace small “peaker” plants — mostly powered by natural gas — that only run when electricity demand surges. But large-scale storage has yet to be tested to support grids as big and complex as the ones in the U.S. Batteries will tie together decentralized energy sources based on a gaggle of new technologies and form an essential part of President Joe Biden’s ambition to make the electricity system carbon-free by 2035. Other countries doubling down on grid batteries include China and Australia.