Comparing energy storage to the Holy Grail has always bothered me; it has never been clear that the grail could be, would be or had been found. Bacon, however, is another thing entirely.
Googling “What makes everything better?,” I found the overwhelmingly popular answer is bacon.
Let’s think of energy storage as bacon for the nation’s electric grid.
For decades, energy experts have said how much easier it would be to integrate renewable resources, to lower electricity demand or to reduce costs of energy — if only we could store energy as we produce it and then use it when we want it, when we need it and when it is cheapest.
That day is here. Energy storage, while long used in hydropower applications and with ice and heat storage inbuildings, has been elusive as a more real-time resource. Today, large developers and unregulated arms of major utilities are investing in and deploying energy storage as flexible resources on the grid. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and many states — such as California, Hawaii, Texas and New York — have recognized the value of storing energy and have created policies to monetize the benefits of storage applications.
Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency has listed energy storage as one of the technologies states can use to meet their greenhouse gas emission targets in the draft rule under the Clean Air Act Section 111(d). Energy storage can be used to integrate renewables but also to maximize the capacity of natural gas and even enhance ramping of coal-fired plants.
Energy storage technologies are emission free, flexible in their ability to both absorb and release energy from the grid, and enable all energy sources to be used more efficiently and less costly.
As states grapple with ways to meet their goals, they should be taking a lesson from their first-mover brethren and use energy storage to make energy better — from renewables and efficiency to coal and natural gas. Storing electrons and using them when the cost is lowest and the need is highest will provide a powerful tool toward making our electric grid cleaner in a carbon-constrained world.
Congress has taken a bullish position on energy storage, having introduced several bipartisan and bicameral bills that incentivize investment in energy storage. Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asserts that he will include a tax credit for energy storage in the context of broader tax reform. Other proposals include energy storage in the Master Limited Partnership Parity Act and inclusion of pre-revenue energy storage innovation in research and development tax credit reform.
So far, energy storage has been seen as a resource-neutral, politics-free technology option by members of Congress. Let’s hope energy storage technologies will continue to be seen for the solutions these applications can provide — bringing home the bacon could really mean something big for our electric grid.
Katherine Hamilton is policy director of the Energy Storage Association, principal at 38 North Solutions and a long-time vegetarian.