Experts eye government role in expansion of energy storage
A panel of experts called on the federal government to increase its role in the development of energy storage technology, which is being increasingly seen as a method to ensure energy supplies amid natural disasters and other periods of power shortages or outages.
Ben Fowke, president and CEO of electric utility Xcel Energy, told the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during Tuesday’s hearing on expanded development of grid-scale energy storage there are three key areas in need of federal action: research and development, incentives, and support of infrastructure and policies.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the chairman of the committee, asked the experts if the $158 million the Department of Energy (DOE) has requested in next year’s budget to study and help develop energy storage technologies is adequate. George Crabtree, director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research at Argonne National Laboratory, told her the federal government and industry have thus far taken a piecemeal approach to storage technology and need to take a comprehensive view of how energy storage will fit into the electricity grid of the future.
U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) agreed with the need for a greater government role in expanding the use of storage technology. He suggested DOE and the Department of Defense team up to support the fledgling technology, as they did in developing fracking technology.
“Energy storage resources present a win-win opportunity to make the grid cleaner, more resilient, and more affordable,” said Murkowski. “By storing power when it is cheapest and dispatching it during peak demand periods when power is most expensive, energy storage can significantly lower consumers’ power bills. It can also help avoid or defer the need to build out additional electric generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure.” It is the second hearing on energy storage the committee has held in the last six months.
Xcel’s Fowke told the panel “states and utilities will inevitably choose the resources that make the most sense for their system and customers, but they cannot lead in the same way as the federal government in driving new technology into the marketplace.” Federal energy storage research and development should be part of a broader clean energy research agenda focused on zero-carbon, dispatchable technologies,” he said. “The nation needs a broad suite of these clean, dispatchable technologies if it is to achieve significant carbon emission reductions at a reasonable price.”
A federal R&D agenda for storage, said Fowke, should focus on increasing storage duration and reducing its cost. “Research should focus on grid-scale storage that is most likely to provide benefits to customers at the lowest cost. The federal research agenda should be developed in concert with the utility industry – after all, utilities are in the best position to understand and maximize the value of different storage attributes, including the value of improving operational control of storage resources. While lithium ion batteries are the dominant technology in the battery storage industry today, a federal research agenda should target those technologies that have the greatest potential to address long-term system needs and reach commercialization.” He cited pumped storage, flow batteries, compressed air energy storage, and other forms of mechanical, thermal and ice storage.
“The federal research agenda should also encourage the development of hydrogen and other power-to-gas technologies that have the potential to link renewables and other sources of clean electricity to the rest of the economy and dramatically increase the amount of energy storage capacity in the nation. Incentives, including tax credits and federal grant funding, have always played a role in moving new technologies to commercialization. We believe incentives for energy storage, if properly designed, could play a similar role,” Fowke said.
Kiran Kumaraswamy, vice president for Market Applications for energy storage tech company Fluence, urged Congress to work with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure energy storage is included in regional transmission planning. “A regulatory construct for storage-as-transmission is largely undeveloped, which is having a direct impact on the ability to install storage for transmission reliability purposes,” said Kumaraswamy, who asked that Congress direct FERC to begin work on storage-as-transmission, starting with either technical conferences or notices of inquiry to inform any potential rulemakings FERC may determine are merited.
Congress, said Fowke, can also encourage the development of new storage projects by streamlining project permitting and siting and encouraging common standards for the integration, operation and cybersecurity of grid-scale storage systems. One pathway to accelerate the development of energy storage in the United States, he said, is to include energy storage as an eligible technology for the Section 48 and 25D investment tax credit. He called on Congress to pass the Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act (S. 1142/H.R. 2096).
Andrew Ott, president and CEO of PJM Interconnection, the largest regional grid in the country, insisted the states and the federal government need to coordinate in order to maximize the value of energy storage resources for both transmission providers and distribution providers, “rather than “pigeonholing” technology and rules based on jurisdictional categories of distribution versus transmission. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the (FERC’s) recent order on integration of storage resources into the wholesale markets has engendered a state versus federal dispute over jurisdiction.
Also appearing on the panel was Mitch Davidson, CEO of Brookfield Renewable Partners LP, one of the world’s largest renewable power portfolios, containing 900 renewable power facilities in North America, South America, Europe, India and China.