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Investing in Battery Storage

Big Picture


Renewable energy is poised to make up most, if not all of America’s future energy supply. Solar and wind are set to make up a vital portion of this energy infrastructure. This leaves us with a question so simple we might forget it's serious: how do we get energy at nighttime or during low winds? Large-scale battery storage allows energy generators to store excess energy from renewable sources and releases that energy when demand is high or supply is low. However, very little battery storage has been built in the U.S. so far.


Graphic From: The design and application of utility-scale battery storage varies by region. US Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=35132. 28 Feb. 2018. This figure illustrates battery storage capacity across the U.S. in 2016. 


Operative Definitions


  1. Power capacity: The maximum instantaneous amount of power that can be produced on a continuous basis.

  2. Energy capacity: The total amount of energy that can be stored or discharged by a battery.

  3. Frequency regulation: A service that maintains grid frequency to ensure stability.

  4. Storage duration: The amount of time that storage can discharge at its power capacity before depleting its energy capacity.

  5. Arbitrage: A strategy of buying electricity during low-price periods (low demand) and selling during high-price periods (high demand).


Important Facts and Statistics


  1. Since 2010, in the United States, over 90% of annual additions of utility-scale battery storage has been lithium-ion batteries, which are essentially common batteries on a much larger scale.

  2. Lithium-ion batteries declined in price over 89% from 2010 - 2020.

  3. Two-thirds of utility-scale battery storage in the United States in 2016 was installed in two electricity markets.


Five-Point Plan


(1) Require new solar and wind farms to install battery storage.

As renewable energy comes online on the grid, storage should be ready to support it. An unfunded mandate paired with a subsidy to support battery installations would incentivize companies to add support in the form of battery storage, while also increasing the total battery storage available on the grid to be released as needed.


(2) Create a national guideline to clarify the role of battery storage in supporting the grid.

The National Renewable Energy Lab identifies that “if no regulations or guidelines explicitly state that storage can provide [grid support] services, utilities and market operators may be unwilling to procure services from [battery storage]”. Clarifying federal guidelines around battery storage is crucial to ensuring that new batteries can serve their purpose of improving grid stability and supplying power to regional grids.


(3) Invest in battery efficiency and recycling research.

While some battery technologies are ready to be deployed on a large scale, significant work needs to be done to improve the efficiency of different methods. Investing in research will boost innovation and ensure that future systems will be ready to replace current ones.


(4) Set realistic goals for future energy storage.

Energy storage goals should mimic existing renewable energy goals, especially if batteries are going to be installed alongside new solar and wind farms. These goals should be written with serious consideration for the intentions of the addition of batteries (whether for frequency regulation or grid reliability), which will determine power capacity and discharge durations.


(5) Fast-track battery installation without sacrificing reasonable safety measures. Battery storage projects are often delayed by long approval processes. In order to meet energy storage goals, these projects need to be fast-tracked. That being said, they also still need to be closely monitored to ensure that they are meeting safety specifications and guidelines. 


Why This Initiative Is Important


Battery storage will be crucial to supporting the electrical grid when renewable energy sources are not producing enough energy to meet demand. Investments in battery installation and capacity show a commitment to a green future without endangering a stable supply of energy.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources


Bowen, Thomas, Ilya Chernyakhovskiy, and Paul Denholm. “Grid-Scale Battery Storage: Frequently Asked Questions.” National Renewable Energy Lab, Sept. 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20220127051533/https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/74426.pdf

Bowen, Thomas, Ilya Chernyakhovskiy, Kaifeng Xu, Sika Gadzanku, and Kamyria Coney. “USAID Grid-Scale Energy Storage Technologies Primer.” National Renewable Energy Lab, Jul. 2021. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/76097.pdf

Fields, Fletcher, and Cara Marcy. “The design and application of utility-scale battery storage varies by region.” US Energy Information Administration, 28 Feb. 2018, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=35132

McGrath, Glenn. “Battery storage applications have shifted as more batteries are added to the U.S. grid.” US Energy Information Administration, 1 Nov. 2021, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=50176.

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