Why 2023 is a breakthrough year for batteries

During the time I spent writing about climate, and even before that, in my previous life as an engineer, I cultivated a great obsession with batteries. And it’s not just because the concept is so confusing: batteries are set to play a key role in the renewable energy transition, both in EVs and on the grid.

So as the new year approached and we here at MIT Technology Review started doing a series called “What’s Next in Technology?,” I knew exactly what I wanted to write. The results were announced this morning—check it out for all my predictions about what’s going to be important this year in battery technology. And for this week’s newsletter, let’s dig a little deeper into the role batteries play in climate action, why I think they’re so exciting, and where this technology is going.

Energy puzzle

Fully stored energy is key to our lifestyle. Our ability to turn on the lights, cook dinner, or drive to work all rely on energy that we can release when we need it. Today, most of this energy reserve is in the form of fossil fuels. Coal, natural gas, petroleum—all forms of fossil fuels contain energy in their chemical bonds, the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. These fuels are burned when we need them at power plants or in vehicles, turning that energy into a form we can use.

But now we are trying to stop burning fossil fuels. We have great candidates for new energy sources, especially solar and wind. But these sources are “discontinuous,” a long word for the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

So we needed a way to take the electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels and store it, and that turned out to be a lot more complicated than we imagined.

It might be quick to go aside to say that there are other ways to at least help with the disruption. The addition of basic and maneuverable energy sources such as nuclear, geothermal and hydroelectricity can somewhat balance out intermittent solar and wind power. And better, longer transmission lines to move electricity around can also help.

But back to energy storage.

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