Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or LBNL, found that existing rail networks can be used to transport batteries to places in need; a cost effective solution to power-grid issues.
Since severe environmental events can have devastating effects on the power-grid, Jill Moraski, campus PhD Candidate and Energy and Resources Group researcher, joined her LBNL colleagues Amol Phadke and Natalie Popovich in studying how to mitigate the effects of climate events
The team began exploring alternatives to building out the grid, since constructing a grid that reaches every part of the country is “infeasible” according to Moraski. Although mobile batteries are still in the early stage of development and deployment, Moraski and her fellow researchers hope that this study will help mobilize the use of large-scale batteries during electrical grid outages.
“As the nation decarbonizes, grid reliability will become increasingly important as more and more technologies rely on electricity, rather than fossil fuel combustion, for energy,” Moraski said in an email. “At the same time, increased deployment of intermittent renewable generation and more frequent climate-driven extreme weather events are challenging grid reliability.”
Catastrophic events in recent years, including the blackouts in Texas and inaccessibility of resources in California due to extreme heat prompted this study, Moraski said. While working on this research, climate events such winter storms on the East Coast continued to illustrate the need for cost-efficient battery transportation.
Phadke and Popovich first conducted a study on rail battery electrification that was published in 2021. Phadke went on to spearhead LBNL’s recent study, which looked at using railways to transport batteries during power-grid failures, with Popovich and Moraski’s help.
“This issue is not something that we have to deal with down the road, and thus not something we can wait 10-20 years for new technology innovation, new transmission line deployment, etc. to solve,” Moraski said. “It’s something we have to deal with immediately.”
Since the U.S. already has an extensive rail network, Moraski and her colleagues found that trains have the ability to transport large-scale batteries across the entire country. For regions without railways, they found alternative options via roadways which would be able to move batteries.
In researching the practicality of using the rail network to move batteries without interrupting existing train operations, the team used electricity load, freight shipment and price data. Their research found that trains could carry a maximum of 100 boxcar batteries without hindering the trains’ shipping or transportation abilities.
“We see a real need to incorporate this type of resource into future grid modeling to understand what value it could provide in futures with increased renewable penetration and extreme climate events,” Moraski said.