Supercapacitors Could Solve Capacity Factor Problems of Renewable Energy

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There is no doubt about it. The growth of renewable energies over the past decade is something rarely seen.

Take wind energy for instance…

The wind energy industry added 20 gigawatts of capacity last year. That’s 31% more than the year before and 176% more than just five years ago. Europe already proved that this growth is steady, and both China and the U.S are finally jumping on board. Not even the NIMBY’s can stop it.

(NIMBY – meaning “Not in My Backyard” – refers to those who reject projects around them even if it benefits them. NIMBY-ism is the main reason why certain proposals for wind farms are rejected.)

Solar power has also presented amazing opportunities. The sale of solar cells increased upwards of 40% last year alone. It’s even made investors big money in the stock market. One of the biggest winners last year on the NASDAQ was a solar company named First Solar, Inc (NYSE: FSLR) If you would have sank just $1,000 into this company at the beginning of 2007, you would’ve walked away with $8,854.

There is only a certain amount of time during the day when windmills can produce energy – their “capacity factor.” The average capacity factor for wind power is about 30%. The rest of the time, these windmills sit like giant statues waiting for the next gust of wind. During that period – the “energy time gap” – no new electricity is going onto the power grids.

The same goes for solar power…

The sun doesn’t shine 100% of the time. Even in the vast deserts of Southwest U.S., in the peak of summer, the sun is only up about 14 hours a day. When it is up, there are problems with cloud coverage. The average capacity factor for solar power is around 25%.

So up until now, these renewable energies have been useless…

Without the ability to store the electricity that these renewables are producing, there’s no reason to build new wind farms, solar-power plants or any other “green” electricity producers.

Until now, batteries were the only choice. Batteries offer great energy storage, but take too long to charge. It takes anywhere from one to ten hours to charge batteries. Unfortunately, with a capacity factor for renewables under 30%, we don’t have that kind of time to wait for batteries to charge.

There is one solution for the energy problems of tomorrow By using a special type of device called a supercapacitor, we have the solution to the fatal “energy time gap.”

Batteries are chemical devices that use mass transfers over a certain period of time. Supercapacitors store ions, which can be stored and released very quickly. It’s like instant energy.

But, that’s not to say that it has to be one or the other. In fact, the two work very well together. Supercapacitors bring fast storage and release of instant power – which is crucial – and batteries use this to advance their storage and long-lasting energy release capabilities.

Changing batteries every few years at wind farms and solar plants, let alone hundreds of other battery-powered locations, becomes quite expensive and time-consuming. These supercapacitors last between 1,000 and 10,000 times as long. In fact, there is a company already manufacturing and selling these products for use in windmills.

But, supercapacitors’ advantages don’t stop here…

When a car brakes, or a crane drops, energy is released. And until now, that energy isn’t recaptured. It’s wasted. Supercapacitors can actually capture that energy and use it again for other purposes. Using the crane example for a minute…

When a crane drops its massive arms to pick something up or unload something, there is a large amount of natural energy (gravity) released. Batteries cannot charge in the time that the crane is dropping, but supercapacitors can. That energy is then stored in the supercapacitor. When the crane needs raised up again, that stored energy is used. Hundreds of different industries can apply this principle to their own energy needs.

Take transportation for instance…

Supercapacitors can collect energy as a vehicle brakes, then release it when the vehicle accelerates, giving a nice boost of energy without any emissions. Every single time someone pulls up to a stop sign or red light the vehicle wastes energy. That energy can save massive amounts of gasoline every second of the day, all over the world. And, both countries and manufacturers are starting to pay attention…

China has an enormous pollution problem. With the 2008 Beijing Olympics coming up, the country is desperately trying to turn its public transportation “green.”

Chinese hybrid bus makers recently signed two contracts for the use of supercapacitor technology. With the rush to have it done by the opening ceremony in August, we should see a rush to buy up as many of these as possible between now and then.

The U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium has already arranged deals for use of its patented supercapacitors, in combination with Lithium-Ion batteries, in next-generation Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in the United States.

In fact, news has already started to show up in this field. In January this year, it was announced that one of the leading automotive electronics suppliers has designed a was to use its supercapacitors in a major automaker’s electrical system, and it will go into full-scale production in the second half of next year.

The role of supercapacitors in the transportation industry is limitless, let alone renewable energies and industrial applications. It’s certainly something to keep on eye out for.

Sincerely,

Jim Nelson
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

Jim Nelson
Jim Nelson is the managing editor of Penny Sleuth, a daily small-cap e-letter with more than 160,000 subscribers. Jim has been playing the stock market since he was 14, always with a preference toward smaller companies.
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7 Comments on "Supercapacitors Could Solve Capacity Factor Problems of Renewable Energy"

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Ken Farber
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Jim: Do you know with whom FAW entered into the two contracts you mention?

James Jackson
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Great article on renewable energy and the storage of that energy. I noticed a website on supercapacitors (www.ultracapacitors.org) the other day and this is some amazing new technology that is coming to us. I hope it gets us off oil dependence.

jj

E. Gamba
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Very interesting, another way to get around the interrupted supply of wind energy could be the setup of a supergrid like the one proposed by Airtricity in Europe were large areas are connected together with a high voltage direct current network.

Unclle B
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It is my sincere hope that in the ‘New Utopia” you speak of, the inhuman and unnatural night shift will be virtually eliminated. If so, we would be sleeping, or otherwise putting modern miracles like Viagra to the test instead of slaving for a dollar at night. This would reduce the demand on desert solar farms and wind farms enough to give super capacitors and the other means of energy storage a time to work. With LED lights, microwave cooking, properly constructed, well insulated, solar/earth bermed homes to make air conditioning and heating redundant, and small garden plots, the base… Read more »
cribcat
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The alternator(as on a car)Provides huge resistance when shorted ( as far as torque or angular velocity or twisting motion on the shaft attached to the armature) . The key is effectively turning that low voltage, high current efficiently into usable power. When coupled with super caps, which are called Li PO batteries, yes it is getting more feasible and storage is the main problem. Review the Ecklin, Brown, and Johnson patents on generators. And I believe Unclle B has a good point. Yes I use LED lights. 10 watts vs sixty

WrongCrisis
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Mark Olliphant (eminent nuclear physicist)in an interview before his death in the early 90s stated that using current technology Australia could install solar panels in the deserts of Australia and convert the energy to hydrogen and supply the all the worlds current energy needs. ( ‘Crisis what crisis’, Supertramp )

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[…] Here‘s some more encouragement: supercapacitors will capture a great deal of currently wasted energy.Again, I understand virtually none of it, except to say that, now that the world seems finally to have focused its attention on the problem, we’ll have it largely solved in the next couple of decades.(Getting from here to there may not be pretty.) […]

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