The Battery Comes of Age

by Kenneth Wallace-Mueller, Member of the MEF Board

Yesterday the renowned entrepreneur Elon Musk announced two spin-off products from his Tesla enterprise, the Powerwall and the Powerpack. The former is a domestic wall-mounted battery available in either 10 kWh or 7 kWh, designed as a redundancy system, yet may be used to take a house off-grid. The latter is a larger modular system available in 100 kWh units which may be used for businesses and industry, creating large-scale batteries of up to 10 MWh (10,000 kWh).

For context, an average European home consumes approximately 5,000 kWh (5 MWh) in one year; in effect, under optimal conditions a single domestic Powerwall could take a European home entirely off the grid for just under a day.

The most significant driver of battery technology development is the electric vehicle. With oil prices recently at an all-time high, a consistently volatile market for fossil-fuels, advancing technology, and reinvigorated marketplace competition, electric transport has never been so attractive.

Elon Musk has high stakes in the success of his electric car company Tesla, conventional car companies such as BMW, Nissan and Renault are expanding their ranges into electric cars, with others sure to follow, not to mention countless hybrids, and many governments have announced state aid schemes for investment in renewable energy generation and the purchase of electric vehicles. A future where vehicles run on renewable source energy is finally becoming tangible.

This move from Tesla has therefore created an opportunity. Whilst renewable energy generators have been in use for decades, a significant drawback has been the lack of effective electricity storage. Systems such as solar panels and wind turbines do have the potential to wean society off fossil-fuels, however without storage, most electricity generated is wasted. Each day, domestic electricity demand spikes in the morning and in the evening (phases known as peak load), whilst decreasing over midday and at night.

Electricity generated by solar panels however peaks at midday whilst supply from wind turbines is dependent on when the wind blows; renewable electricity supply from common sources does not match demand. Whilst not new, Teslas large-scale electricity storage is therefore a great step forward to its commercial adoption and in attracting competitors.

David Marcu

One must not forget, the future of battery technology will be dependent on the success of electric transportation. Commercial automotive companies will drive development through marketplace competition, whereas projects such as Alejandro Agag´s Formula E electric motorsports championship will drive development more aggressively through sport.

Factors such as the total life-span, charging speed and longevity in cold conditions as well as general safety issues will be improved through such competition, however two significant factors remain: the sustainable creation and disposal of batteries.

Batteries depend on the flow of electrons through a solution from a negative to a positive electrode. Various rechargeable batteries are available, each using different chemical elements for the electrodes and the solution, however currently electric cars use either nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) or lithium-ion batteries, which allow for high energy output.

In lithium-ion batteries, lead, chromium, thallium, cobalt, copper and nickel are present in high levels. If improperly disposed of, these elements are known to be environmentally toxic and have health effects on humans such as major neurological problems and cancer.

On the macroeconomic level, should society be driven towards greater acceptance of renewable source electricity instead of fossil-fuel sources, a reduction in demand for oil would provide opportunities for new companies and force existing companies into new markets: those for the extraction and refinement of the necessary chemical elements. Whilst lithium is not a rare element, over time, there will be concerns over extraction and resource depletion. In addition, the largest lithium sources include Bolivia, China and Afghanistan. Increased dependence on these elements may cause geopolitical issues comparable to those we currently face with oil. The same is true for all necessary elements.

Given the threat of climate change and society’s dependency on fossil-fuels, batteries for either transport or storage will provide great relief and will undoubtedly contribute to the increased acceptance of renewable source energy.

That being said, we must not forget to consider the environmental and health impact of battery creation and disposal.

Even today both research and legislation should be directed towards developing non-damaging disposal and recycling techniques, as well as finding ways to extract the necessary elements in a sustainable manner.

With these safeguards in place, society in the twenty-first century may make its first steps towards true energy security and even making the giant leap towards ending energy poverty.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

NATO and Hybrid Warfare

by Marie Gibrat, represented the UK in the NATO North Atlantic Council, at BEF 2015

“In preparation for BEF 2015, the chairs of the NATO simulation requested participants to write an essay on hybrid warfare and the position of their country. The essays were entered into our committee competition, and we are happy to present our winner!” – Marian Fritz

Clausewitz stated “Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions and its own peculiar preconceptions”.

Definition of hybrid warfare

Hybrid warfare can be defined as the use of a combination of conventional and irregular methods such as military operations, cyber-attacks, propaganda, and terrorist acts. It is composed of an interconnected group of state and non-states actors pursuing overlapping goals where the social and political context is complex and the state is weak.

Due to the growing proliferation of non-state actors, information technology and advanced weapons system, it has renewed.

 Photograph © Philipp Mehl 2015

Nowadays hybrid warfare involves four threats: traditional, irregular, catastrophic terrorism and disruptive which exploit technology to counteract military superiority. The environmental context in hybrid warfare is one of the chief characteristics of this type of war. Hybrid war takes place on three distinct battlefields: the conventional battlefield, the indigenous population and the international community.

The lack of flexibility and adaptability within conventional militaries explains difficulties to defeat hybrid threats. In order to balance the latter one need to focus on the overall environment, not simply on the enemy. Armies should have in mind an operational approach with a holistic understanding of the environment. They should think on the conflict termination with a respect to the political and social grievances instead of focusing on a purely military-security end-state.

Besides operational shock i.e. attack the coherent unity of the hybrid threat as a system and dislocation i.e. the art of rendering the enemy’s strength irrelevant should be used simultaneously.

Hybrid warfare and NATO

NATO is a military alliance that will never embrace the full spectrum of challenges embodied in hybrid warfare. The current NATO deterrence policy for hybrid warfare is based on a rapid military response. However the latter has three main limits. A quick decision from member states is difficult to reach. Hard power is not sufficient. A military response alone is not credible.

Nevertheless, facing the current Russian threat, NATO considers it a necessity to develop a set of tools in order to deter hybrid warfare. Russia has risen its military budget and has announced an ambitious military modernization. Informational war, propaganda and cyber-attacks are already taking place in Eastern Europe, especially in Baltic States. General Sir Adrian Bradshaw said that Putin could use “hybrid warfare to seize former Baltic States”.

Hence hybrid warfare constitutes a far-reaching institutional challenge for NATO. A solution would be to increase cooperation with the European Union. By intensifying consultations and by engaging in joint planning, NATO and the EU would be a solid counterweight to hybrid threats.

Moreover, NATO needs to be present during the first step of hybrid warfare and even before. Prevention represents the best possible means of countering hybrid warfare since irregular threats are far more difficult to manage once they become an over attempt at destabilization. That is why NATO encourages the Security Sector Reform. The latter aims at strengthening a state’s resilience of their security sectors, while embracing transparency and accountability.

Lastly, NATO has developed a refreshed system of warnings to identify threats such as cyber-attacks, subversion and hostile propaganda.

The UK and Hybrid warfare

Military chiefs have warned that Britain has entered a new Cold War with Russia. Russia military planes, ships and submarines have made at least 17 incursions close to the UK since the start of 2014. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the Russian aggression poses “as great a threat to Europe as the Islamic State”. Michael Fallon wants to deliver the strongest possible message to Putin and asserts the Alliance will be strong, resolute and will prevail. The Defence Secretary warned of the threat to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia posed by Russia and claimed Putin was continuing to test the UK and NATO.

Nevertheless some military chiefs said the UK could not cope in case of a Russian attack because of cuts in the UK defence budget. Moreover, dealing with these hybrid threats requires much more investment in cyber, in strategic communications and in intelligence because these are not conventional threats.

Notwithstanding the fact that the UK defence is one of the most advanced in the world, it cannot fight alone against hybrid warfare. The UK will need NATO and the USA to counterweight any hybrid threat.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.