I've prefigured a specific setting as being middling in technological progress when compared with its neighbors.

This setting does not have access to hydrocarbons, has severe cultural and political restrictions from imports, and importantly, has very limited water resources.

They have generally plentiful mineral resources which means they'd be able to access iron, aluminum, etc. They also have the ability to magically create a substance that mirrors modern plastics.

If this setting is poor in nickel, cadmium and lithium, would that be enough to stop them from having something resembling a developed, urbanized, level of electrical usage?

The water restriction means they would not be able to use thermoelectric power or biofuels. The hydrocarbon restriction means they don't have access to the stored liquid, gas, and solid fuels that we do. They are landlocked.

But, they have plentiful sunlight and wind power, and I'm considering what resource restrictions would limit the efficacy of those sources. Without reliable access to the three, listed, elements, would a corresponding inaccessibility of electrical storage result in things like only daylight power usage, or limit power draws to windy days/seasons?

There are a lot of ways to make batteries, and I'm not going to reverse-engineer a world where lead, or other more common resources are magically rare. But what does a world with electrical generation look like, without those three means to store it?

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    "This setting does not have access to hydrocarbons, has severe cultural and political restrictions from imports, and importantly, has very limited water resources:" that's a desert. The inhabitants are bedouins who use camel dung as fuel. There may be "plentiful mineral resources" in the desert, but without water they are just rocks. They cannot access iron and aluminium without water. In particular, smelting aluminium needs a lot of electric power, and smelting iron needs a lot of fuel. – AlexP Aug 10 at 3:47
  • @alexp its also a magical context. They can, and do, use magic for various things. So much so, that it may be possible to do things like metalworking, unaided. I'm going to have to further research some of the processing techniques, but assume they can mine, smelt, and refine things like copper, aluminum, etc unless water is specifically, directly, and explicitly used in the manufacturing. To be precise, they have ways of generating extreme heat, but don't have the water needed to convert magical heat into thermoelectric power at industrial scale. – user49466 Aug 10 at 8:05
  • Is it meaningful to explore what such a society might look at without further understanding the details of the magic system? In many fictional contexts, the nature of the magic dominates the physical aspects, so much so that we might answer the question without concern for the physical restrictions at all. – Cort Ammon Aug 10 at 21:54
  • @cort ammon I'd say so; I have a decently firm grasp on the magical system, and have found that including those additional details just confuses people and causes the question to be derailed. I'll be doing research about the efficacy of using that magic in the creation of solar cells, generators, gearboxes, etc, but I don't expect there to be a limit there. What their magic can't do is create battery systems, which is where i expect the bottleneck to be. If so, the setting works. If not, I may have to revist the context of tech there. – user49466 Aug 10 at 22:42

Mechanical Storage

Storage doesn't have to be chemical! With some proper engineering, a windmill could store energy mechanically.

Gravity/Inertia batteries

A large weight can be lifted to a high location, then used to generate electricity when the windmill isn't turning. This same concept can be applied to a large, heavy wheel set spinning. These methods are very efficient, and some are still in use today. This is also extremely easy to implement, even an old grain mill could be refitted to use a gravity battery, so this has potential in the very beginnings.

Compressed air

This one may be a bit harder to implement, but by using the energy generated from wind/solar, air can be pumped into cave systems, where it can be stored. The air can then, when needed, be heated ever so slightly and then released through expansion turbines to generate energy with 60-90% efficiency

Hydrogen

If you can make electricity, you can make hydrogen fuel! All you have to do is run a current through water and capture the gasses. It turns out to be quite efficient, theoretically up to 83%. The downside is that if you can't figure a way to separate the oxygen from the hydrogen until you need to use it, the mixture is highly flammable.

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    the gravity storage could be promising. There are setting limits to the other two, but gravity storage might work. Do you have any additional thoughts on the capacities involved? How much work is done by, say a one-ton object suspended a few meters compared to a random cellphone battery? If they can use gravity storage, how well does that translate to industrial scale use, or a modern energy economy? – user49466 Aug 10 at 22:46
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    You overstate the efficiency of electrolysis (83%) is for the fuel cell, you also have to crack the water in the first place (about 64% at 850 C) - these must be multiplied. Seperation of O2 and H2 is a non-problem, one collects at the cathode, the other at the anode. – Gary Walker Aug 10 at 22:47
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    @user49466 A metric ton weight (9800N) dropping for one meter could generate ~2.7 watt hours of energy. This is about half of your cellphone battery. So, assuming a windmill – Skyler 13 hours ago
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    Of industrial size (100m), a 5 ton fully raised could generate a total of 1372 watt hours, which is a small fraction of what our turbines can produce in a day, but with good engineering I imagine you could suspend many more, or much heavier weights – Skyler 12 hours ago

Lack of current/state of the art battery constituents does not rule out useful and economical electrical technology, as follows:

If they have copper (for wires), iron (for electromagnets) and the knowledge or desire to experiment; they have the basis for basic electrical inventions such as the dynamo (for motors and generators) and the telegraph; those are non-trivial in terms of economics and quality of life. Virtually any pair of metals in a suitable electrolyte will make a battery; virtually any (safe, affordable) battery technology is far better than none. Do they have Zinc?

If they have glass, Tungsten and either Argon or basic (mechanical) vacuum pumps, they can make economically-viable incandescent lamps.

Note also that Edison's experiments with electrical filaments in evacuated globes was a key thing in the development of the vacuum tube. "The Edison Effect" is a good research starting point: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermionic_emission

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    Hi @catalyst part of the OP is the admission that this society can create certain technologies: "But, they have plentiful sunlight and wind power, and I'm considering what resource restrictions would limit the efficacy of those sources. Without reliable access to the three, listed, elements, would a corresponding inaccessibility of electrical storage result in things like only daylight power usage, or limit power draws to windy days/seasons?" I'm more interested in how the lack of these limits would restrict the ability to store the power they could generate – user49466 Aug 11 at 1:15
  • Here's an idea: if they would have viable battery alternatives, what might that look like? E.g. instead of a tesla powerwall, might they use a car-sized lead-alkaline battery? And how might that square with the restrictions in the OP? – user49466 Aug 11 at 1:18

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