Storage is key to commercializing renewable energy

Increasing America’s ability to store energy is key to making renewable energy available at all times – even when there is no wind or sun – US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said on Wednesday. , during the Clean Power 2022 conference in downtown San Antonio.

“Storage is a huge priority because that’s what will make renewable energy dispatchable,” she said. “If we can get the cost right and if we can increase the duration (of storage), there is this potential to turn these variable renewables into 24/7 base load.”

Increasing storage capacity could, for example, allow operators to store solar power produced at midday in batteries and send it to the grid when demand is highest, typically in the evening.

To make this a reality, the Department of Energy’s billion-dollar “Earthshot” initiative aims to reduce the cost of long-term storage of more than 10 hours by 90% this decade. Duration refers to the time it takes for a fully charged storage system to discharge that energy to the grid. Most lithium batteries today have a life of up to four hours.

Reducing the cost of long-term storage technologies such as hydrogen would make them “the most cost-effective choice for electricity consumers,” Granholm said. The Biden administration is directing more than $3 billion from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to manufacture more energy storage batteries in the United States, she said.

With the rapid growth of solar and wind generation in Texas, energy storage is being explored in San Antonio and elsewhere. The amount of electricity generated by solar panels jumped 82% in April compared to the same month last year, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Wind generation increased by 32% last month compared to the previous year.

In a pilot project in San Antonio, CPS Energy is about to sign a contract for a 50 megawatt battery storage system and another to purchase 900 megawatts of solar power. CPS’s acting CEO called the project “an important pilot”.

Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy, speaks at the CERAWeek by S&P Global 2022 conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., Wednesday, March 9, 2022. CERAWeek returned to Houston in person to celebrate its 40th anniversary with the theme “Race of Change: Energy, Climate and Innovation.” Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg

F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg

In March, the city-owned utility signed a deal with Bill Gates-backed startup Quidnet Energy on a long-lived underground pumped hydroelectric storage system. The project, which can store one megawatt of electricity, is part of a 15-year partnership that will see CPS test Quidnet’s technology. The company pumps underground water using excess electricity, then releases the high-pressure water to spin a turbine when CPS needs electricity.

“Storage is key to advancing renewable energy,” said Benny Ethridge, CPS vice president of power generation, after the utility’s board meeting last month. “I think we need longer term storage to really move the needle.”

More renewable energy projects and battery systems mean that more transmission cables will also be needed to transport this energy.

Throughout this week’s Clean Power conference, energy leaders said more than technological innovation, the industry needs a faster permitting process for transmission projects. In Texas, solar power generated in the western reaches of the state sometimes does not reach Texas metros because the transmission lines that carry electricity across the state are clogged.

But transmission projects are expensive. They also require buy-in from landowners and approval from many local and federal agencies.

“If we could just get the transmission element right, there are hundreds and hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy that could be connected tomorrow,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, who pushed to do build a transmission line to bring power from New Mexico to Arizona. “The faster we develop the transmission…the faster we’re going to do this whole energy transition.”

Building transmission lines has become so difficult that Heinrich suggested Biden appoint someone dedicated to building them. Last year, 386 miles of transmission lines were built in the United States, a sharp drop from the past decade, when the United States installed more than 1,800 miles of transmission lines on average each year. according to a market report from the American Clean Power Association.

“It’s such a limiting factor for the speed at which we can deploy (renewable energy) and the speed at which we can create jobs that I think it would be appropriate for them to be a White House czar, or whatever label you want to put on, for transmission infrastructure,” Heinrich said. “When you make a transmission line, it’s not easy. location. But not settling should not be an alternative.

Heinrich spoke live after Granholm and others made remarks in a recorded conversation. About 7,000 people attended the conference hosted by the American Clean Power Association at the convention center this week.

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Bonny J. Streater