Why aren't we investing more on improving energy storage technology

I don’t understand why researchers are not trying harder to crack better energy storage solutions. Instead, all the focus seems to be on finding new clean sources of energy. That’s important, of course, but if we could vastly improve energy storage we could presumably make do with the energy sources we already have? And intermittent renewables such as wind and solar would be so much more attractive.

Earlier this year, I heard scientists based at the Culham science park near Oxford arguing that there needs to be a Manhattan Project for fusion power. In other words, on a global scale, we need to corral our intellectual might and research budgets and push as hard as possible to securing a clean, safe and abundant source of energy. It was a persuasive argument: what could be a better goal for humanity?

But, equally, what if we were to invest the same time and resources into developing far more efficient, cheaper forms of energy storage than we can currently call on? Renewables wouldn’t need to be supported by the “back-up” baseload provided by fossil fuels or nuclear. Electric cars would be far more attractive, both in terms of usability and affordability. And we wouldn’t need to waste so much of the power we generate.

Breakthroughs in battery technology hit the headlines from time to time, but it seems as if we’ve barely moved beyond the rechargeable lithium-ion, nickel-metal hydride and lead acid batteries that have served us for decades.

Are there any other battery technologies that we should be getting excited about? And would a Manhattan Project aimed at advancing energy storage technologies be a better use of resources than, say, fusion, or any other form of next-generation energy production?

This column is an experiment in crowd-sourcing a reader’s question, so please let us know your own thoughts below (as opposed to emailing them) and, if quoting figures to support your points, please provide a link to the source. I will also be inviting various interested parties to join the debate, too.

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