Improving Energy Storage Technologies

energy storage with windmill in background

According to a new report, “Future of Energy Storage,” published by the MIT Energy Initiative, different energy storage technologies can make more optimal use of increasing levels of intermittent renewable energy, with the combined resources replacing fossil-fueled generation systems by 2050. The almost 400-page report provided a blueprint for supporting and using existing and emerging grid storage technologies to reduce emissions in affordable ways.

The study, in specific, looked at the Northeast, the Southeast, and Texas, each of which reflects a different demand portfolio and different levels of wind and solar. It analyzed strategies for capitalizing on various grid storage technologies, including electro-chemical, thermal, chemical, and mechanical.

The report noted that, as grid storage increases in usage, policies must be adjusted in order to: avoid excess and inequitable burdens on consumers, encourage electrification for economy-wide decarbonization, and enable economic growth.

In addition, assuming that wind and solar technology costs continue to decrease, the study’s modeling identified cost-effective pathways for decarbonizing electricity systems, which could reduce emissions by 97 to 99 percent, relative to 2005 levels. The report added that efficient decarbonization will require substantial investments in multiple energy storage technologies, as well as in transmission, clean generation, and demand flexibility.

The report also noted that today’s dominant grid storage is provided by lithium-ion batteries, which typically have a maximum output of only four hours. However, storage providing many more hours of power duration will be needed in order to meet different grid demands, including weather and seasonal-related demands. In specific, the report called for more support of longer duration storage technologies, particularly electro-chemical, that use widely-available earth materials, including those derived from second-use batteries and recycling.

Furthermore, it emphasized that enabling a climate-friendly grid in the U.S. requires changes in planning and operational tools that can reflect the transitioning system that is necessary in order to fight climate change. It also recommended increasing fixed charges in order to make energy storage financially-viable.

The report also recommended modifying the federal government’s current practice of granting intellectual property rights to private sector partners who share the costs of technology demonstration projects, noting that public investment in technology demonstration and early deployment activity is designed to disseminate knowledge.

In addition, according to the report, more government financial aid for storage with at least 12 hours of output is necessary, because this type of storage research is not being backed by substantial private investment, unlike like lithium-ion batteries that do have this private investment. And, on this front, the report noted, the U.S. Department of Energy is currently working on a research goal to help reduce the cost of 10-hour plus energy storage, and recently approved $505 million as a way to advance multi-hour storage paired with renewables.

And another reason for optimism: According to the report, private financing for energy-dense, low-cost batteries in electric vehicles has significantly improved prospects for short-duration electricity system storage.


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