Each of the energy storage technologies considered in this chapter has an environmental impact related to the technology and techniques it employs. Pumped storage hydropower, for example, will entail many of the same considerations that apply to conventional hydropower while CAES will involve similar emission considerations as those relevant when considering a gas turbine.
Large battery energy storage systems may involve the use of toxic materials such as cadmium or lead which need to be handled and eventually recycled with care. The sodium in a sodium-sulphur battery is particularly dangerous if not handled carefully. Flow battery systems contain reagents which should not be allowed to escape into the environment either.
High-technology storage systems such as superconducting magnetic energy storage and super capacitors will also involve novel, possibly toxic materials. However these will usually be costly to produce and there will be a strong incentive to recycle them. Flywheels are probably the most benign of the technologies with little environmental impact unless treated extremely carelessly.
There are, however, two aspects of storage technologies that have wider ranging impacts. The first is their ability to improve overall system efficiency and the second is the advantages that accrue to their use in conjunction with renewable technologies.
Adding energy storage capacity to a transmission or distribution network makes it easier to manage. As already indicated, storage capacity can be used to store off-peak electricity generated in cheap base-load generating plants, electricity that can then be used when demand rises beyond the capacity of the base-load units.
This mode of operation is economical because it replaces peak-load generation with base-load generation and the latter is normally the cheapest source of electricity. It is also more efficient since it will allow a utility to base the majority of its generation on its most energy efficient units. This is of environmental benefit since the most efficient generation results in the lowest atmospheric pollution - or should if regulation is operating correctly.
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