The Key To Renewables Catching On? Storage And Cost, Says MIT Professor

The Key To Renewables Catching On? Storage And Cost, Says MIT Professor

August 29, 2018

“Nobody in the modern world is going to settle for green electricity only part of the time,” says MIT professor Donald Sadoway. “We expect electricity on demand all the time. Wind doesn’t blow all the time and sun doesn’t shine all the time. The missing piece is storage.”

Sadoway, who was named one of TIME’s “Most Influential Person of the Year” in 2012 because of his renewable-energy research, has developed a new battery made of inexpensive and readily available materials that he says has grid-scale potential and is a superior alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

Sadoway’s creation may be a ways off from commercialization, but when he speaks, our ears perk up. He recently chatted with Forbes contributor Arne Alsin about the future of battery storage, and we thought we’d share a few particularly interesting quotes.

On what it will take to wean the world off fossil fuels:

“What I’ve learned is that no one is going to embrace any of this clean technology unless it’s going to give you a product that is comparable to what we have now, or even superior to what we have now, and at a price that’s comparable to what we have now. … If what you want to do is to radically disrupt something like the world steel industry or the world aluminum industry, you better think about cost on day one—not on day one thousand.”

On criticism for diverging from lithium-ion technology:

“Battery guys are pessimists, they’re skeptical, and they’re very tribal. … Disruption in the big industries is going to come from outside the industry. We see that over and over again. Be prepared to see disruption coming from the most unlikely places.”

On innovations in battery research:

“We definitely have to be bolder in our innovation when it comes to what goes beyond lithium-ion. We have to apply the criterion, ‘If successful, how big is the impact?’ And we have to have the courage to fail.”

On what it will take to achieve grid-scale storage of renewables:

“You have to have all of the pieces in the puzzle. … People have been allowing certain aspects of the system to get far out in front, while the other aspects are lagging so far behind. The chain is as strong as its weakest link. So if I gave you solar for free, you still can’t do it right now because you don’t have storage, and if you don’t have storage for solar, it’s useless.”

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