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Energy Storage
Credit: Jamie Stilling

Energy Storage

Call to action:

Accelerate the development and deployment of energy storage technologies to drive the worldwide transition to renewable energy.

Renewables are projected to account for 95 percent of the increase in global power capacity by 2026 and could provide all global energy demand by 2050. Wind and solar energy, however, have an intermittency problem, requiring batteries to keep electricity flowing when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. Energy storage technologies such as pumped-storage hydropower and lithium-ion batteries have been around for years but have limitations. To run the world on renewables will require 275,000 times more storage capacity than is available today. New technologies are being developed to achieve long-duration capacity, including batteries that store energy via trapped heat and devices that utilize the force of gravity. In addition to creating a regulatory environment in which these technologies can prosper, care must be taken to ensure storage technologies are cost effective, use responsibly sourced materials, and seek consent from vulnerable communities.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn about the development of energy storage systems. Long-duration energy storage systems have enough stored energy to provide reliable and flexible capacity to the electrical grid. The surge in renewable energy use around the world is increasing demand for a diverse array of storage solutions:

  • Pumped-storage hydropower has been around since the 1890s and still comprises about 99 percent of global storage energy volume. It is expected to provide 42 percent of global expansion of electricity storage capacity in the coming years. But this trend must be carefully monitored, as pumped-storage hydropower is known to create problems, particularly if it involves dams that displace ecosystems and people. RheEnergise is developing a solution that substitutes for a medium that is denser than water. Their system can be placed on lower inclines without dams and even underground.
  • Lithium-ion batteries are currently leading new energy-storage technologies. They have traditionally been used for short-duration needs, such as personal electronics and electric vehicles. Recently, there have been innovations to increase duration. However, lithium-ion batteries are notoriously combustible and require nonrenewable materials, including lithium and cobalt. They use large quantities of water in their production. Mines used for these batteries’ materials have been linked to environmental degradation and human rights abuses.
  • Sodium-ion batteries are emerging as a viable alternative to large-scale lithium-ion applications, particularly because of the natural abundance of sodium in salt around the world.
  • Flow batteries use liquid electrolyte that is pumped through electrodes to extract energy. One specific type is the vanadium redox flow battery. While flow batteries use materials that may be toxic, these types of batteries can last up to twenty-five years.
  • Gravity-based energy storage in the form of stacked blocks is being pioneered by companies such as Energy Vault. The system uses a crane to raise and lower giant blocks that release kinetic energy. There is even a plan in India to utilize waste coal ash to form the blocks.
  • Hydrogen energy storage uses electrolysis to separate hydrogen from a chemical solution or even from water. The hydrogen can then be used for power generation or for fuel (see more in Green Hydrogen Nexus).
  • Iron-air batteries work by repeatedly rusting and unrusting iron to release and store energy. Form Energy is developing a class of cost-effective, multiday iron-air energy-storage systems.
  • Liquid air (or cryogenic) systems work by cooling air until it liquifies, and energy is released as the air is warmed back into a gaseous state. Highview Power is a major supplier of this type of technology.
  • Underground compressed air energy storage uses compressed air stored in underground caverns, which is later heated and expanded to drive a turbine. While this type of storage has safety concerns involving the potential failure of rock to hold under pressure, it can utilize old mines.
  • Thermal energy storage works by heating or cooling a storage medium that can then be used later for power generation or to directly heat or cool a building. Molten salt is a popular medium. A large-scale energy-storage project powered by molten salt is in the works in Morocco.

Install residential energy-storage systems. The global market for battery-based residential energy-storage systems is expected to grow 21.3 percent annually from 2021 to 2031 and could account for half of all residential power-system sales. By installing a battery on residential property, particularly if that battery is connected to residential solar or wind systems, individuals will be doing their part in the worldwide transition to renewables.

  • An article from Rise gives an overview of the popular residential energy storage options on the market (which are all lithium-ion batteries), including the Tesla Powerwall 2, LG Energy Solution RESU10H, Pika Energy Harbor, Sonnen Eco, Panasonic EverVolt, Nissan XStorage, and the Enphase Encharge 10.
  • Treehugger also provides a list of available battery-storage options, which include mini systems that can deliver backup power to critical items such as refrigerators. Emerging EV models may also provide backup power and function as mobile microgrids (see more in Smart Microgrids Nexus).

Use renewable energy and reduce overall energy consumption to foster demand for energy-storage technologies. The worldwide demand for energy-storage systems in 2030 is set to be twenty times larger than systems that were online in 2020. By using renewable energy where possible, individuals help foster innovation in energy storage solutions. And by decreasing overall energy consumption, consumers reduce stress on the grid during times of peak use, which in turn makes it easier for energy-storage technologies to be integrated. Some specific ways individuals can make a difference include:

Groups

Electricity Providers

Enter into public-private partnerships to support energy storage projects. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are long-term contracts between governments and private companies that allow both actors to collaborate and pool funds in support of a public project. These types of partnerships have been used since the 1980s for energy-efficiency projects, though they must be employed carefully to avoid issues that affect vulnerable communities. The PPP Knowledge Lab provides resources to ensure the proper execution of PPPs in the power sector. Here are some recent examples of this alliance being used for energy storage:

  • The first solar power plant in Chad, which was paired with the country’s first electricity-storage infrastructure, is being funded via a PPP among actors including InfraCo Africa, the African Development Bank, and an independent power producer.
  • A consortium of stakeholders, including the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Alliant Energy, entered into a PPP to establish a battery-storage project in Decorah, Iowa. The project was found to be cheaper than upgrades to the grid that would otherwise have been needed to support solar operations.
  • Israel’s largest-ever solar-energy field, which includes a 210-megawatt-hour energy-storage facility, will be funded via a PPP between the country’s government and a private energy-infrastructure company.

Consider retrofitting decommissioned fossil-fueled power plants for energy storage. There is a global trend of retiring fossil-fueled power plants, including 240 existing plants in the United States that are set to be decommissioned in the next twenty to thirty years. This is due in part to the reduction in the cost of wind and solar power. As a result, this land may be available for renewable-energy projects, including energy-storage systems that benefit from plants’ facilities, existing grid connections, and employees with transferable skills. Some examples of such retrofitting projects under way include:

  • A natural gas peaker plant in Queensland, Australia, will soon reduce its gas generation and rely on a large-scale battery system instead.
  • Chile is considering converting its coal-fired plants to Carnot batteries, which is a type of thermal-energy storage.
  • A proposed project at a soon-to-be-retired coal-fired plant in Colorado would retrofit the property for molten salt-energy storage.

Energy Storage Companies

Train and hire a diverse workforce. Energy storage is one of the most in-demand segments of the energy industry and companies are hiring workers ranging from engineers and IT professionals to skilled craft workers and electricians. Despite energy storage being heralded as the job-creation opportunity of the future, the overall clean-energy workforce is predominantly white and male. By training and hiring a workforce that is inclusive, energy-storage companies benefit from a diverse set of opinions and perspectives and are in turn more likely to be profitable.

  • Initiatives for energy-storage companies include the International Energy Agency’s Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Initiative, and Energy UK’s Equality & Diversity Forum and Pride in Energy Network.
  • Peak Power, a Canadian climate-tech company with a battery-storage solution, has committed to the government of Canada’s 50-30 Challenge, which set a goal of advancing gender parity and increased diversity on corporate boards and in senior management positions.
  • Energy-storage companies may consider apprenticeship programs that support non-college-bound workers. One such program in the U.S. trains workers in the wind, solar, and battery-storage fields. At program completion, trainees are guaranteed a job with a participating utility.

Scientists

Further develop innovative, long-duration energy-storage technologies. California recently set a record for being powered almost 100 percent by renewable energy. However, this milestone only lasted two minutes during weather conditions that were ideal for wind and solar sources. Many energy-storage technologies that can support renewables around the clock are being researched, but scientists must still work to bring these technologies into commercial deployment.

  • One program poised to incentivize scientific development is the U.S. Department of Energy’s Long Duration Energy Storage for Everyone, Everywhere Initiative. The program will provide a framework and funding for demonstrating, validating, and piloting technologies that show promise in increasing the duration of energy-storage resources.
  • With the growth of energy storage systems comes patenting considerations that scientists must navigate. An article from JD Supra explains the exponential growth of battery patent filings over the past decade and provides a rundown of strategic IP considerations for energy-storage solutions.

Find materials for storage technologies that are regenerative and can be recycled. Common problems with some current energy-storage technologies, particularly lithium-ion batteries, are that they require toxic chemicals and they may rely on rare earth elements. Scientists are instrumental in formulating energy-storage technologies that minimize these types of problems.

  • A report from the International Energy Agency describes the mineral requirements for clean-energy transitions. The agency recommends a number of technological advancements needed for energy storage to rely less on rare minerals, including reducing cobalt content in lithium-ion batteries, striving for higher energy density, and exploring technologies beyond lithium-ion.
  • A number of energy-storage technologies that do not rely on rare earth elements are in the works, including sodium-ion batteries and gravity-based energy storage (see above in Action Items: Individuals). But more research is needed to scale these technologies to the grid.
  • Effective battery recycling is critical to relying on energy-storage systems. A recycling industry catered to batteries is growing, but further development is needed as battery storage becomes the norm. Some pioneers to look to in this effort include Redwood Materials and ACE Green Recycling.

Rural Landowners

Consider leasing land for a commercial energy-storage project. Large tracts of flat land are ideal for utility-scale energy-storage projects, particularly if this land is close to existing grid connections. Rural landowners can consider leasing their land for energy-storage projects as a means to generate income, power their own operations, and contribute to a clean-energy future.

  • Black Mountain Energy Storage in Texas provides participating landowners a 24-to-36-month review for a potential project to ensure that no adverse environmental impacts will come from the project’s installation or operation.
  • A land-lease program in New York explains that lease payments can range from twenty thousand to one hundred thousand dollars per year for a qualifying battery-storage project.

Investors

Invest in energy-storage technology companies that are poised to make a difference. As a compliment to fossil fuel divestment, investors should consider reallocating their funds to support promising energy storage companies (see a nonexhaustive list below in Key Players: Energy Storage Companies). Energy storage companies received $11.4 billion in funding in just the first nine months of 2021, a 363 percent increase from the same period in the previous year.

  • An article from Schroders presents eight things investors need to know about energy storage, including the declining cost trajectory of energy storage and the countries leading the way in the energy-storage market.

Governance

Include members of vulnerable communities as key stakeholders in the development of energy-storage technologies. Rural communities often do not have reliable access to the grid and therefore have much to gain from local energy-storage solutions. Yet, such underrepresented groups have historically been excluded from conversations surrounding clean energy. For instance, a recently planned hydropower project in Bolivia may displace Indigenous populations due to flooding. This must change to ensure equitable access for energy-storage solutions. Here are ways these stakeholders can be engaged:

  • Deploy energy-storage technologies in vulnerable communities. This will not only incentivize the transition to renewables but allow these communities to pivot resources to other empowering endeavors, including the education of girls (see Education of Girls Nexus). The World Bank Group’s Energy Storage Partnership has resources on how to distribute energy-storage technologies in developing countries.
  • Design participatory action strategies that bring in members of vulnerable communities. Check out the recommendations from the Global Commission for People-Centred Clean Energy Transitions for including these individuals as active participants in the clean-energy transition. Make sure energy-storage projects receive the free, prior, and informed consent of affected communities, as was reported for a recent hydropower project in Nepal.

Incentivize the development of affordable energy-storage technologies through a range of economic programs. Energy-storage technologies are increasingly becoming cost effective, but more can be done. Some examples of economic incentives to help drive down the cost of energy storage include:

  • Investment tax credits allow investors to deduct a percentage of investment costs from their taxes. A specific investment tax credit for energy storage is currently being considered in the U.S.
  • Rebates can act as a form of sales promotion for retail energy-storage systems. Austria and Italy have begun rebate programs for homeowners and businesses that install storage units alongside solar-energy systems.
  • Government grants can be an important funding strategy. Grants tied to energy storage have already been deployed in a number of countries, including the U.S., UK, Australia, Israel, Singapore, and South Africa.
  • Energy storage-as-a-service (ESaaS) is a model that allows customers to rent energy-storage systems instead of owning them. ESaaS is growing in popularity in many countries, including Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S.

Promote market incentives that ensure energy storage does not rely on power generated from fossil fuels. Research suggests that the energy-storage boom could contribute to increased emissions if the storage devices are charged from fossil-fueled power plants. This risk can be mitigated in a number of ways:

  • Tie energy-storage incentives to renewable sources. For instance, an investment tax credit for energy storage could require such a battery to derive its energy from renewables.
  • Put a price on carbon. One of the reasons energy-storage systems rely on fossil fuel–generated power is that this form of power may be cheaper. By enacting a carbon price, such as through a carbon tax, power derived from fossil fuels can become prohibitively expensive.

Enact ambitious energy-storage targets followed by concrete actions to meet those targets. California was the first U.S. state to publish an energy-storage target, and the state has since met that initial target and set additional goals via energy-storage procurement mandates imposed on the state’s utility companies. Other jurisdictions have since followed suit with their own energy-storage targets, including eight other U.S. states and China. These goals must be followed by robust actions to prevent missed targets, as happened in New York. Some examples of reputable actions include:

  • A program in Connecticut offers incentives up to $7,500 for residential electric customers to install energy-storage systems on their properties. Customers in historically underserved communities are eligible for additional benefits.
  • California became the first U.S. state to mandate battery storage in new construction. The state updated its building code to require builders to install solar and battery storage in new commercial buildings and high-rise multifamily buildings.
  • Chile has become a model for battery storage in Latin America. The country intends to double its energy-storage capacity between 2021 and 2023. Chile has enacted a number of storage-friendly policies, including allowing storage to serve as a transmission network reinforcement (storage-as-transmission) and by providing capacity payments for long-duration storage.
  • Japan will require power companies to open up their grids to energy-storage projects operated by other companies. The country also plans to subsidize up to half the cost of battery-storage systems.

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