Energy Storage Association sees storage as critical to future reliability and resiliency in U.S. grid

Published on December 05, 2017 by Chris Galford

Kelly Speakes-Backman

With the release of a white paper laying out a pathway for the United States to reach 35 gigawatts (GW) of energy storage systems by 2025, the Energy Storage Association is driving forward the notion that energy storage can — and should — play a sizeable part in the nation’s grid.

At the helm of this effort is ESA CEO Kelly Speakes-Backman, who spoke with Daily Energy Insider this week regarding her thoughts on national policy, ambitious new energy plans, and where technology and utilities fit into the picture. Speakes-Backman is the organization’s first CEO, having taken the position in July, but her plans have already proven to have great aspirations.

The ESA has been working with regulators, legislators and stakeholders to open the market up to energy storage of all types, hitting the issue at both the state and federal level. Ideally, what the association seeks is the creation of new market designs, programs or rates that compensate storage systems for the flexibility they allow for in the grid, as well as incorporating storage in regular power sector planning. The group also desires greater interconnectivity with the grid and general operations.

This is where the 35×25 Vision comes into play.

“We recently released our 35×25 Vision, where we see a clear and actionable pathway to 35 GW of new storage across all technologies by 2025,” Speakes-Backman said. “This is driven by rapidly declining costs and increasing performance of storage (particularly battery storage), changing consumer demands, and electrification of our economy.”

“With costs just 50 percent of what they were 3-4 years ago, that trend is expected to continue in the near future, and storage is increasingly competing on economics alone with conventional generators and infrastructure solutions,” she added. “Combine that with the increasing attention by policymakers to remove barriers to storage on the electric grid, and increasing installations of variable and distributed generation, you can understand why we are bullish.”

Storage, she said, is set to be a widespread asset of the electric system, regardless of how slow federal policy can be to catch up. Navigant Research aided the ESA in reaching that conclusion in the white paper, laying out the market drivers behind that change, as well as the value of a grid that is, essentially, disruption-proof.

In fact, the report determined that $4 billion in cumulative grid savings and more than 167,000 new jobs could stem from energy storage deployment across the country.

Currently, the United States has just 800 megawatts (MW) of advanced energy storage. To reach 35 GW in less than a decade is banking on a lot of pieces coming together. Speakes-Backman noted that utilities have played an important role in the advancement. Most are already planning for energy storage, even in places without an explicit regulatory driver.

“More and more utilities are finding that storage makes economic sense today and are procuring it as a least-cost solution, particularly as a part of the distribution delivery system,” Speakes-Backman said. “We expect that trend will only continue as more utilities get experience with energy storage. Ultimately storage is about improving the reliability, resilience, sustainability and efficiency of the grid. Whether that’s behind the meter or on the grid side, utilities will need to be a part of the planning for storage growth, the interconnection, and in many cases the deployment itself.”

Energy storage costs are falling, but energy demands, consumer preferences and new technology are also coming into the picture. Once those take hold, change picks up speed rapidly.

Speakes-Backman pointed to innovations by Con Edison in New York, for example, that are seeking to bring in mobile grid storage assets to help add flexibility to the grid. Flow batteries were another example of innovations in technology that are making storage more viable.

“As project developers gain experience, they’re creating systems that are closer to turnkey and easier to integrate, particularly through the use of advanced controls and artificial intelligence,” Speakes-Backman said. “As projects become more standardized and replicable, that means faster deployment and lower risk, which is key for responding to disasters and infrastructure failures.”

What this could mean for average customers is greater reliability, improved decarbonization, and cutting of costs by allowing companies to avoid unnecessary investments in underutilized excess capacity. As it is, power outages, surges and spikes cost the U.S. economy more than $150 billion every year, according to the ESA’s white paper.

At the same time, the ESA has joined with other energy advocates in a coalition known as the Affordable Energy Coalition, built as a means of opposing a Department of Energy proposal to reward power plants for stockpiling 90 days’ worth of energy onsite. They have said this measure would do nothing to improve resiliency and reliability, but would raise energy prices by approximately $10 billion for consumers if adopted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.