Photo: Kodda/Shutterstock

Scientists Want to Replace Polluting Power Plants With Battery Storage

Sustainability News
by Tim Wenger Jun 19, 2020

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

Last week’s Climate Win focused on Environmental Justice, a movement that addresses environmental hazards and how they disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities. We have more on that this week, with a dose of good news, with our look at “peaker plants.”

Across the US more than 1,000 part-time power plants, or peaker plants, are used only when the country’s energy demands peak. This happens when air conditioning units turn on for the summer, for example. Though they’re used only some of the time, most of these plants are incredibly inefficient and spew higher amounts of harmful toxins into the air than even the regular natural gas power plants used to power 38 percent of the country.

“Peaker plants are also typically disproportionately located in disadvantaged communities, where vulnerable populations already experience high levels of health and environmental burdens,” the non-profit group Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE) says on its website. The group goes on to say, “In this screening analysis, we identify peaker power plants across nine states that may be prime candidates for replacement based on operational and grid characteristics, and whose replacement may yield the greatest health, environment and equity co-benefits.”

How can we shut these inefficient “peaker plants” down and not only stop harming the communities where they are located but replace the energy they generate with power from renewable sources? The answer may lie in a common household item you’ve likely used your entire life: batteries.

Now, we’re not saying that the Energizer Bunny is going to drum his way to the rescue here. We’re talking large-scale battery storage, with batteries specifically designed to store excess solar and wind power for use at a later time. Technology in this sector has progressed rapidly in recent years, not only making the batteries more powerful in terms of energy storage but also making them more competitive price-wise to energy providers looking to retire their aging fossil-fuel-powered plants.

The PSE identified “peaker plants” in nine states including Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Texas. It then put together plan proposals to retire those plants and replace them with battery storage that can be distributed to power suppliers during times of peak need.

As an added bonus, all this clean power would actually be up to 10 percent cheaper for the consumer, in part because there’s no finite amount of sun or wind power to be harvested. “Renewable energy and energy storage systems are beginning to emerge as competitive replacements for this fossil fuel infrastructure,” the PSE notes.

If you live in one of the nine states covered in the study, select your state from the data analysis here and email that page to your representatives in the state capitol. The ability to win a fight on both environmental and economic angles just might “peak” their interest.

Other climate wins this week:

  • Reducing the amount of time you stare at your cellphone screen could help plant trees around the world. The Forest app was developed to help users reduce screen time. Each time a user wants to stay away from the screen, they plant a “tree” in the app. If they reach their goal, it grows — if they check their phone in the interim, it dies. As the user collects coins through successful grows, they can donate them to the app’s partner, Trees for the Future, to help fund their reforestation efforts around the globe.
  • Ireland announced a massive shift in how its government will approach sustainability. Three of the country’s main political parties are near an agreement to govern together under a coalition, and part of their long-term plan is to reduce carbon emissions by seven percent per year while simultaneously building up green transit infrastructure — with a heavy emphasis on bike transit in urban areas. Existing roadways will be analyzed to see where space could be turned over to cyclists and pedestrians, and the federal Bike to Work program may even incentivize companies to purchase e-bikes and cargo bikes.
  • Should you find yourself at Wal-Mart, pay attention to the grey vests worn by employees. As of last summer, staffers have been donning these vests instead of the signature blue-with-yellow-trim vests. The biggest difference, other than the color, is that the new vests are made of recycled plastic bottles. The company announced the plan last summer and has since rolled it out across the country.

Discover Matador