Super capacitors – The next big breakthrough in energy storage, and perfect for solar power.
This is a guest blog post by Neel Kamal.
Energy storage is one of the major irritants of all sources of electrical power. Batteries are limited by definition. They have a certain amount of capacity, and so many recharges. Electrical design tends to be like home insurance, working with these known factors as the power source scenarios and just dealing with storage accordingly. They have limited capacity to handle electrical charges. Batteries also aren’t Green, in any sense. They’re full of toxic materials, they explode in fires and as waste, they’re a pest.
Super capacitors, however, are a different ball game. They’re capacitors made of nano porous carbon. They can contain huge amounts of charge, and they’re chemically manageable at the end of their life cycles. They also have from 1,000 up to 10,000 times the power of regular capacitors. The advantage is high current delivery capacity, and it’s likely to put batteries out of business, as well as provide solar energy with a good economic storage system.
Solar power is actually potentially far more efficient than current technology permits it to be. These passive power systems are much more efficient, economically, than a high maintenance, multiple handling process based on fuels.
The amount of extremely valuable carbon wasted in cars and power generation is a testimony to exactly how inefficient the process is. The carbon, in any other conceivable form or use, would be more valuable to the carbon producers. As nano carbon, ironically, it’s worth a hundred times more than oil or coal, per kilo. Waste has many faces, but this is one of its stupidest.
For solar users, power capacity is a bugbear. Power is collected, and has to be stored. Batteries are inefficient, and have relatively low capacity. The ability to generate power is there, but not the storage. Super capacitors are the first step in a process which could completely change the face of the power industry. Energy grids could become far more efficient, and their own storage drastically improved.
The real beauty of super capacitors is that they’re extremely simple. Instead of the conventional parallel plates, they use electrodes covered with activated carbon. These things can power electric cars, public transport like streetcars, and obviously with some development would be able to provide multiple storage capacity and multiple-redundant backup power systems.
The good news for solar enthusiasts is that the super capacitors will inevitably become part of the power generation economy. Increasing demand for power and power loads on grids means that capacity to locally generate and store power has to increase in direct proportion. Burning more coal and oil won’t make any difference to a fundamental economic factor- Cost. This isn’t a market which can sustain endless cost increases well, if at all. Industry and consumers can’t carry them. The overheads are too high, and the possible returns don’t increase at the same rate as demand.
Super capacitors will become the electrical system’s “contents insurance” for power. A couple of spare super capacitors could provide good off-grid power when required, easily. It’ll be extremely interesting to see what happens when they come on the market.