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Energy Storage Can Support a Renewable Energy Future

New York – both city and state – have been energy storage leaders. Photo: Aurelien Guichard via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

A few years ago, New York City’s utility, Con Edison, made an unorthodox decision: instead of adding new transmission wires and substations to their overworked grid, they chose to use a combination of renewable energy generation, demand management and energy storage to meet growing demand in parts of Brooklyn and Queens. This project will cost roughly $1 billion less than building a new substation, reduce the city’s fossil fuel consumption, and make it easier for Con Edison to build more renewable energy generation plants in the future.

While this project won’t be finished until later this year, New York State has already made it easier for other utilities to follow Con Edison’s lead. Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo pledged that the state will build 1,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2025. Though bigger than any other statewide storage goal so far, this commitment fits into a larger trend. Similar benchmarks have been set in states like California, Massachusetts and Oregon, and as of last spring, 140 state-level policies and regulations were pending or in place across the country that were related to the utility side of the energy storage market.

As variable energy sources like wind and solar become a larger part of our energy system, utilities are increasingly using storage technologies like lithium-ion batteries and thermal storage systems to help maintain a reliable electricity supply. To get the most benefit out of energy storage, however, policy-makers and the general public need to understand how energy storage works, where and when it is necessary, and how to structure public policy to support the appropriate introduction of energy storage.

Our new white paper, Making Sense of Energy Storage, addresses these questions. The paper looks at the role that energy storage plays in various proposed pathways to a 100 percent renewable energy future, provides a user-friendly guide to current and emerging storage technologies, and describes how utilities and consumers are already benefiting from the integration of storage into the energy system.

Overall, the report finds that energy storage is becoming an important part of our modern electric grid:

  • More than 300 new grid-connected storage projects have been completed over the last decade. Excluding pumped-storage hydropower, there is now six times more energy storage capacity connected to the grid than in 2007.
  • In Vermont, the utility Green Mountain Power built a solar farm and utility-scale battery microgrid that has saved the utility roughly $200,000 per year.
  • Battery storage was quickly brought online in response to the 2015 Aliso Canyon natural gas leak, preventing power outages across southern California. These batteries were fully installed in just nine months, much more quickly than a new power plant would have taken to build.

Declining prices, improved technologies, and the adoption of ambitious statewide targets are already facilitating a rise in energy storage, but there’s still room to grow. With smart policies and continued renewable energy growth, energy storage can be a key tool for supporting the nation’s transition to a clean energy future.