Removing Barriers to Energy Storage is Key to a Clean Energy Future

Updated: Sep 14



Source: The Union of Concerned Scientist

In just one year—from 2020 to 2021—utility-scale battery storage capacity in the United States tripled, jumping from 1.4 to 4.6 gigawatts (GW), according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Small-scale battery storage has experienced major growth, too. From 2018 to 2019, US capacity increased from 234 to 402 megawatts (MW), mostly in California.


While this progress is impressive, it is just the beginning. The clean energy industry is continuing to deploy significant amounts of storage to deliver a low-carbon future.


Having enough energy storage in the right places will support the massive amount of renewables needed to add to the grid in the coming decades. It could look like large-scale storage projects using batteries or compressed air in underground salt caverns, smaller-scale projects in warehouses and commercial buildings, or batteries at home and in electric vehicles.


A 2021 report by the US Department of Energy’s Solar Futures Study estimates that as much as 1,600 GW of storage could be available by 2050 in a decarbonized grid scenario if solar power ramps up to meet 45 percent of electricity demand as predicted. Currently only 4 percent of US electricity comes from solar.


But for storage to provide all the benefits it can and enable the rapid growth of renewable energy, we need to change the rules of an energy game designed for and dominated by fossil fuels.


Energy storage has big obstacles in its way

We will need to dismantle three significant barriers to deliver a carbon-free energy future.


The first challenge is manufacturing batteries. Existing supply chains are vulnerable and must be strengthened. To establish more resilient supply chains, the United States must reduce its reliance on other countries for key materials, such as China, which currently supplies most of the minerals needed to make batteries. Storage supply chains also will be stronger if the battery industry addresses storage production’s “cradle to grave” social and environmental impacts, from extracting minerals to recycling them at the end of their life.


Second, we need to be able to connect batteries to the power system, but current electric grid interconnection rules are causing massive storage project backlogs. Regional grid operators and state and federal regulatory agencies can do a lot to speed up the connection of projects waiting in line. In 2021, 427 GW of storage was sitting idle in interconnections queues across the country.


You read that right: I applauded the tripling of utility-scale battery storage to 4.6 GW in 2021 at the beginning of this column, but it turns out there was nearly 100 times that amount of storage waiting to be connected. Grid operators can—and must—pick up the pace!


Once battery storage is connected, it must be able to provide all the value it can in energy markets. So the third obstacle to storage is energy markets. Energy markets run by grid operators (called regional transmission organizations, or RTOs) were designed for fossil fuel technologies. They need to change considerably to enable more storage and more renewables. We need new market participation rules that redefine and redesign market products, and all stakeholders have to be on board with proposed changes.


Federal support for storage is strong

Despite these formidable challenges, the good news is storage will benefit from new funding and several federal initiatives that will develop projects and programs that advance energy storage and its role in a clean energy transition.


First, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act President Biden signed last year will provide more than $6 billion for demonstration projects and supply chain development, and more than $14 billion for grid improvement that includes storage as an option. The law also requires the Department of Energy (DOE) and the EIA to improve storage reporting, analysis and data, which will increase public awareness of the value of storage. And even more support will be on its way now that President Biden has signed the historic Inflation Reduction Act into law.


Second, the DOE is working to advance storage solutions. The Energy Storage Grand Challenge, which the agency established in 2020, will speed up research, development, manufacturing and deployment of storage technologies by focusing on reducing costs for applications with significant growth potential. These include storage to support grids powered by renewables, as well as storage to support remote communities. It sets a goal for the United States to become a global leader in energy storage by 2030 by focusing on scaling domestic storage technology capabilities to meet growing global demand.


Dedicated actions to deliver this long-term vision include the Long Duration Storage Shot, part of the DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative. This initiative focuses on systems that deliver more than 10 hours of storage and aims to reduce the lifecycle costs by 90 percent in one decade.


In just one year—from 2020 to 2021—utility-scale battery storage capacity in the United States tripled, jumping from 1.4 to 4.6 gigawatts (GW), according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Small-scale battery storage has experienced major growth, too. From 2018 to 2019, US capacity increased from 234 to 402 megawatts (MW), mostly in California.


While this progress is impressive, it is just the beginning. The clean energy industry is continuing to deploy significant amounts of storage to deliver a low-carbon future.


Having enough energy storage in the right places will support the massive amount of renewables needed to add to the grid in the coming decades. It could look like large-scale storage projects using batteries or compressed air in underground salt caverns, smaller-scale projects in warehouses and commercial buildings, or batteries at home and in electric vehicles.


A 2021 report by the US Department of Energy’s Solar Futures Study estimates that as much as 1,600 GW of storage could be available by 2050 in a decarbonized grid scenario if solar power ramps up to meet 45 percent of electricity demand as predicted. Currently only 4 percent of US electricity comes from solar.


But for storage to provide all the benefits it can and enable the rapid growth of renewable energy, we need to change the rules of an energy game designed for and dominated by fossil fuels.


Energy storage has big obstacles in its way

We will need to dismantle three significant barriers to deliver a carbon-free energy future.


The first challenge is manufacturing batteries. Existing supply chains are vulnerable and must be strengthened. To establish more resilient supply chains, the United States must reduce its reliance on other countries for key materials, such as China, which currently supplies most of the minerals needed to make batteries. Storage supply chains also will be stronger if the battery industry addresses storage production’s “cradle to grave” social and environmental impacts, from extracting minerals to recycling them at the end of their life.


Second, we need to be able to connect batteries to the power system, but current electric grid interconnection rules are causing massive storage project backlogs. Regional grid operators and state and federal regulatory agencies can do a lot to speed up the connection of projects waiting in line. In 2021, 427 GW of storage was sitting idle in interconnections queues across the country.


You read that right: I applauded the tripling of utility-scale battery storage to 4.6 GW in 2021 at the beginning of this column, but it turns out there was nearly 100 times that amount of storage waiting to be connected. Grid operators can—and must—pick up the pace!


Once battery storage is connected, it must be able to provide all the value it can in energy markets. So the third obstacle to storage is energy markets. Energy markets run by grid operators (called regional transmission organizations, or RTOs) were designed for fossil fuel technologies. They need to change considerably to enable more storage and more renewables. We need new market participation rules that redefine and redesign market products, and all stakeholders have to be on board with proposed changes.


Federal support for storage is strong

Despite these formidable challenges, the good news is storage will benefit from new funding and several federal initiatives that will develop projects and programs that advance energy storage and its role in a clean energy transition.


First, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act President Biden signed last year will provide more than $6 billion for demonstration projects and supply chain development, and more than $14 billion for grid improvement that includes storage as an option. The law also requires the Department of Energy (DOE) and the EIA to improve storage reporting, analysis and data, which will increase public awareness of the value of storage. And even more support will be on its way now that President Biden has signed the historic Inflation Reduction Act into law.


Second, the DOE is working to advance storage solutions. The Energy Storage Grand Challenge, which the agency established in 2020, will speed up research, development, manufacturing and deployment of storage technologies by focusing on reducing costs for applications with significant growth potential. These include storage to support grids powered by renewables, as well as storage to support remote communities. It sets a goal for the United States to become a global leader in energy storage by 2030 by focusing on scaling domestic storage technology capabilities to meet growing global demand.


Dedicated actions to deliver this long-term vision include the Long Duration Storage Shot, part of the DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative. This initiative focuses on systems that deliver more than 10 hours of storage and aims to reduce the lifecycle costs by 90 percent in one decade.