How much storage do we need in a fully electrified future? A critical review of the assumptions on which this question depends

Paper May 2024

Authors:

Greg Marsden, Elizabeth Shove, Jacopo Torriti.

Abstract:

‘How much storage do we need in a fully electrified future?’ On the face of it, this is a perfectly sensible technical question that needs to be answered if energy systems are to be decarbonised and if climate change goals are to be met. In this deliberately provocative paper, we argue that this question is itself part of the problem.

In working towards this conclusion, we argue that assumptions surrounding:

  1. Spatial and temporal scale;
  2. The equivalence of storage and demand side management;
  3. The nature of demand that underpin methods of calculating the need for energy storage are critical, yet often hidden or absent.

We demonstrate the importance of such assumptions in practice today through the instrumental case of the electrification of the car fleet.

Our analysis advances the argument that current approaches reproduce interpretations of normality that are, ironically, rooted in an era of fossil fuels. This has the perverse effect of reproducing present standards and modes of living and perpetuating ultimately unsustainable routines and expectations.

We argue that the way out of this impasse is to invite more open discussion about the social worlds implicit in contemporary scenarios and forecasts. Rather than thinking about the types of storage needed to preserve the status quo, the challenge is to imagine the temporal, spatial and organisational qualities of energy systems, including systems of storage, that might be compatible with much lower carbon ways of life, and with very different patterns and levels of demand.

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