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ICL model predicts lithium-ion batteries most competitive for storage applications by 2030

Researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) developed a model to determine the lifetime costs (i.e., levelized cost)—as opposed to the investment cost—of 9 electricity storage technologies for 12 different applications between 2015 and 2050. The model predicts lithium-ion batteries to be the cheapest technology in the coming decades. An open-access paper on their work is published in the journal Joule.


Credit: Schmidt et al. Joule

We have found that lithium-ion batteries are following in the footsteps of crystalline silicon solar panels. Lithium-ion batteries were once expensive and suited only to niche applications, but they are now being manufactured in such volumes, their costs are coming down much faster than the competing storage technologies.

—senior author Iain Staffell

The model, which incorporates data from more than 30 peer-reviewed studies, shows that at present, the cheapest energy storage mechanism is pumped-storage hydroelectricity, where water is pumped to a higher elevation with spare energy, then released to harvest the energy when needed.

However, as time progresses, pumped-storage hydroelectricity costs do not decrease, whereas lithium-ion battery costs come down, making them the cheapest option for most applications from 2030.

Personally, I was always quite skeptical toward lithium-ion storage for stationary applications, but when it comes to the levelized cost of storage—investment, operation and charging cost, technology lifetime, efficiency and performance degradation—lithium-ion combines decreasing cost with sufficient performance to dominate the majority of power system applications. I would have expected others to outperform in certain applications.

—first author Oliver Schmidt

Schmidt adds that the model doesn’t say anything about whether lithium-ion batteries are the best-suited technology for stationary storage, but because it has such a head start in the market, it is best poised to be the cheapest option in the immediate future. The researchers can’t predict how new materials or advances will impact the market, but they hope their model, which is available open access to test a variety of technology cost and performance assumptions, can help industry and policymakers make informed investment decisions today.

The authors received funding from the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.


  • Oliver Schmidt, Sylvain Melchior, Adam Hawkes, Iain Staffell (2018) “Projecting the Future Levelized Cost of Electricity Storage Technologies,” Joule doi: 10.1016/j.joule.2018.12.008



The main content is behind a paywall.

This analysis doesn't seem to consider either materials costs or resource size as a limitation, and even so the Li-ion loses out to PHES at barely over an hour of storage in 2030 and well under a day in 2050.  In short, exactly what one would expect from assuming a massive PEV fleet used in part as demand-side management.

The only good reason to use stationary batteries for the grid is to compensate for unreliable connections or to give backup plants time to start in case of a generation loss in excess of spinning reserves.


This study, like the Chinese major battery manufacturers, probably assumed that Li-On batteries price would fall below $50/kWh by 2030/2035. If so, it would most probably become the lowest SHORT term storage method.

Pumped Hydro and H2 remain the most appropriate methods for longer term (16+ hours).

A mix of 3 or 4 technologies may be required.

assumed that Li-On batteries price would fall below $50/kWh

Totally impossible when raw materials cost $70/kWh or more.  Thus, skepticism.

Pumped Hydro and H2 remain the most appropriate methods for longer term (16+ hours).

Storage of heat as molten nitrate salts is far cheaper... if you aren't assuming that your energy source isn't some "renewable" which produces electricity rather than heat.

A mix of 3 or 4 technologies may be required.

3 at most:

  1. Nuclear energy for electric power, DHW and space heat.
  2. Molten-salt energy storage to buffer daily and weekend cycles of electric demand.
  3. Heat-to-chemical-energy conversions for seasonal and longer energy storage.
H2 doesn't enter the debate at all.


An ideal value for r.e. at some multiple of peak demand allows for intermittent surpluses that can be applied to any purpose from pumping to H2 or as we see already in some installations as molten salts .
Democratised power is a real possibility for the majority of energy consumers.
The big brother claims are spurious at best when many if not most people can see thru the scare tactics of state dependency.


I suspect that at the rate at which the Li-ion market is developing, by 2050 / 2060 the "game" is over for Li.
A far better replacement for Li will be Mg. Mg is far more abundant than Li, is cheaper, non-volatile, and has twice as much energy density as Li. Employing full-metal foamed Mg as an anode will enable 10 to 20 times the gravimetric energy density compared to a lithiated graphite anode and will allow a considerable weight reduction.


Nuclear geothermal storage seems like an overlooked option, and it seems least resource limited.



Cal Abel finds that a nuclear-steam plant with molten-salt thermal storage requires just 1.78 GW(t)-hr of storage to meet the BPA load curve.  It would appear that high-temperature GW-yr-scale storage is mainly useful for unreliable and seasonally counter-cyclical sources like solar thermal.  Perhaps it could be used with lower-temperature heat to provide space heat, storing heat year-round for provision mainly during the winter.


Hmmm.  The Stanford study makes assumptions which appear questionable and would under-state the storage requirements for unreliable energy sources due to failure to add coincident extremes together:

The daily storage requirements assumes some other technology (smart grids, etc.) which results in a constant electricity demand each day (total electricity consumed in one day divided by 24 hours) and the storage system must address variations in electricity demand between different days of the year.


Future (100 to 300+ million) EVs and hybrids, with well managed charging cycles, could do a lot to better match e-energy production and consumption and greatly reduce the size of storage units required.

Grid operators could automatically decide when electrified vehicles will be recharged and or discharged based on the availability and/or demand of e-energy in a given sector. The energy required by individual e-vehicle is not a secret and the grid operators could use the information positively to better match supply and demand.

E-vehicle owners with large (100+ KW) battery packs could voluntarily contract to supply/sell an acceptable percentage of the stored energy to help to level peak demands.

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