People have known for decades that solar and wind energy are cleaner and healthier than energy produced by fossil fuels. But utilities and consumers have sometimes expressed concerns about the variability and dependability of these renewable energy sources. Those concerns are starting to fade with the emergence of game-changing energy storage technologies. According to a new white paper released today by Environment America, the rapid growth of less expensive wind and solar energy, combined with plummeting costs for energy storage, has led to a six-fold increase in energy storage capacity (excluding pumped hydropower) over the past decade.
“As renewable energy production rises, energy storage is increasingly becoming a ‘go-to’ option for utilities, businesses and homeowners. But many people are still unaware that it’s ready for prime time,” said Rob Sargent, Environment America’s energy program director. “We need to educate people and policy makers about how the smart use of energy storage can make a transition to clean, renewable energy possible.”
The report, Making Sense of Energy Storage: How Storage Technologies Can Support a Renewable Energy Future, provides an overview of energy storage technologies, including batteries, thermal storage and others. It also illustrates how storage has aided consumers and the national electric grid, including by preventing expensive construction of new transmission lines, improving resilience after storms and the largest gas leak in U.S. history.
“At Green Mountain Power in Vermont, we are working with customers and leading the way toward a new energy system that is more home, business and community-based, and leverages innovations like battery storage to drive down costs for all customers while improving reliability,” said GMP Vice President of Innovation Josh Castonguay. “Combining solar and battery storage is a game changer and opens up so many possibilities for customers and expanding renewable generation. It can be used during outages to keep the lights on and to help reduce peak energy demand, directly reducing costs for customers.”
Declining costs, combined with a growing recognition of the multiple benefits storage can offer, has led more policy makers to factor storage into energy planning and regulation. As of last March, 140 state-level policies and regulations related to the utility side of energy storage were pending or in place across the country. A number of states, including California, Massachusetts, and New York, have established energy storage targets. In a growing number of other states — from Washington, to New Mexico, to Minnesota, utility regulators are considering storage.
“Policy makers across the country are beginning to realize that deploying energy storage can enhance the electricity system while facilitating the growth of clean, renewable energy options,” said Ellen Anderson, Energy Transition Lab, at the University of Minnesota. “Batteries paired with solar can already compete with new gas plants on cost to meet peak energy demand. At the same time, energy storage can also help states like Minnesota maximize and expand the use of our tremendous wind energy resource.”
“More than 300 new storage projects were added to the grid over the last decade, and at least 300 more are already being planned or built,” said Elizabeth Berg, a Frontier Group analyst, and co-author of the white paper. “Our report shows that these technologies cannot only aid our transition to a renewable energy system, but can provide many other benefits to the electric grid as well.”
The report makes a number of recommendations to policy makers, including:
Removing barriers to energy storage by clarifying and improving grid connection and permitting policies;
Designing rates and energy markets to capture the full value of energy storage;
Adopting programs that incentivize homes and businesses to adopt storage; and
Establishing storage targets and benchmarks that encourage utilities to build and utilize energy storage throughout their system.