Energy Storage to Get Its Shot

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Can researchers bring the cost of energy storage down 90% over the next decade? A new initiative from the Biden Administration hopes to accomplish just that. U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced the program, called the Long Duration Storage Shot, as the second target of the Department of Energy’s Energy Earthshot Initiative to accelerate the transition toward cleaner energy. 

While solar and wind installations have skyrocketed in recent years, battery storage has been mostly out of reach due to sky-high prices, currently hovering around $162 per kilowatt-hour. That leaves many wondering what will happen when the sun stops shining, or the wind stops blowing. California brought this issue to the forefront last summer when the state faced several days of blackouts due to the inability of the state’s impressive solar footprint to meet peak power demand. However, there’s near universal agreement that having access to long-term energy storage is an integral part of preventing future blackouts as intermittent energy like wind and solar continue to displace fossil fuels. 

“We’re going to bring hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy onto the grid over the next few years, and we need to be able to use that energy wherever and whenever it’s needed,” says Secretary Granholm.

“That’s why DOE is working aggressively toward cheaper, longer duration energy storage to reach President Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035. This new initiative will create new manufacturing jobs right here at home and make sure clean, reliable, affordable electricity is available to everyone, including Americans living in remote and underserved communities,” she continued. 

How will the Long Duration Storage Shot reduce current storage prices? The Department of Energy will fund research and development at national labs, establish large-scale demonstrations and deployments, and encourage domestic manufacturing. 

Long generation energy storage is defined as any type of system that can store energy for more than ten hours at a time. The initiative will consider all types of storage technologies such as electrochemical, mechanical, thermal, chemical carriers, or any combination as long as they have the potential to meet duration and cost targets for grid flexibility. Currently, pumped hydro accounts for 95% of the available long-term energy storage.   

Pumped hydro is a proven resource that is already half the price of lithium-ion batteries. In a pumped hydro system, water is pumped from one reservoir to another at a significantly higher elevation and then subsequently released from the upper reservoir to the lower pool through a system of hydropower turbines when power demand and prices are at their highest. Utilities have invested heavily in this sort of technology. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently considering license applications to add 1,145 megawatts of pumped storage capacity to the power grid. 

Other technologies are showing promise as well. For example, some utilities and businesses are exploring thermal pumped storage, which stores energy as heat in molten salt or sand and dispatches it as electricity through a heat pump.

For more than a decade, we’ve argued for an all-of-the-above approach to electricity generation to keep lights on for consumers without sacrificing reliability. We need a variety of tools for electricity storage as well. Hopefully, this new shot will get energy storage ready for prime time.