Contributed by Kelly Speakes-Backman
As the national trade association in the U.S., the Energy Storage Association (ESA) is the leading voice for companies that develop and deploy the multitude of energy storage technologies that we rely on every day. In addition to working to make electricity smarter, more efficient, and better, its mission is to promote the adoption of competitive and reliable energy storage systems for electric service. ESA recently released its “35x25: A Vision for Energy Storage” report, which lays out a roadmap for deploying 35 GW of new energy storage by 2025.
As a professional dedicated to the energy sector for almost my whole career, I have spent quite a long time examining the trends and future of energy in the United States. During the past 5 months, as the newly appointed CEO of the Energy Storage Association, I’ve been examining how and why the electric sector is indisputably transforming right in front of our eyes.
Energy demands and the role of the consumer are rapidly changing. Electrification, digitization, and distributed energy resources are poised to fundamentally redefine load curves, placing new strains onto our aging grid infrastructure. To sustain this transformation and foster continued improvements to the way we generate, consume and deliver energy, we need an electric network that is more flexible and dynamic – able to adapt to the requirements of the consumer and meet the demands of the innovation economy.
Today’s grid is designed to be reliable, but it lacks resilience. For the past century, our grid has operated with only a few elements – centralized fossil fuel power plants and a one-way power flow to the consumer. Centralized control, planned outages and normal maintenance on the system have been sufficient operating parameters until recent years. Aside from a relatively small amount of pumped hydro systems, the grid has operated without the ability to store its end product (electricity!) at a significant scale. This has enormous impacts: at any given moment, we only have about 20 minutes of electricity stored on the grid.
For perspective, think about it in terms of the other networks that are critical to our daily lives – food, data, transportation. Imagine if the next time you went to the grocery store you had to wait for someone at the store to go out to the farm and pick your potato. Or, if every time you needed to fuel up your car, you had to wait for someone to pump it out of the ground and deliver it to the gas station. Prices for these commodities would soar and supplies would be defenseless to any small disruptions. Thankfully, we have very robust storage systems for these networks – typically on the order of 10% of daily demand.
Meanwhile, the commodity that powers more than 40 percent of what we do in America would be completely gone in less than half an hour if we stopped generating, which is why we need strong energy storage systems for our grid. Energy storage technologies ensure that electricity supplied from any source can be saved for use later, precisely when, where, and in whatever form it is most needed. That very simple concept enables an enormous amount of capabilities for the electric grid—be it supplying backup power, reducing peak system demands, relieving stressed grid infrastructure, filling in the gaps from variable generation sources, or maintaining the optimal function of inflexible generation sources.
And as we electrify more and more of our economy through electric vehicles and mass transit, building heating and cooling, automated manufacturing and the meteoric rise of data and communications, the impact and cost of any disruptions to the grid become more and more expansive. Without powerful supplies of energy storage on the system, we will build more generation than needed, pay more for it than we should, and get less efficient performance than is required of a modernized electricity network.
Given that most of our grid was built decades ago, when energy storage was limited, the lack of advanced storage systems built into our markets and regulations is understandable.
Technologies, consumer demands, and economics are changing, though. US energy storage installations more than doubled in 2016, and prices for the storage systems have plummeted to less than a third of 2010 costs. The cost of energy storage systems is already less than the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s projections for 2040. We now have cost-effective energy storage technologies that have proven to be modular, scalable, adaptable, safe, and reliable grid resources.
Energy storage is here, and it’s growing fast. Whether plugged in directly to the grid or installed at homes and businesses, energy storage is fundamental to a modernized grid. Indeed, energy storage is the hub of an efficient, resilient, sustainable and affordable energy system that will transform the way we generate, deliver and use energy.