As states and local governments across the country are looking to increase the level of renewable energy consumed in-state in order to decarbonize. California intends for its energy consumption to be based completely on renewable sources within the next 25 years. The Golden State is far from alone: Massachusetts is targetting 35% renewable energy sourcing by 2030 and, according to the Sierra Club, at least 100 cities across the nation have announced that they are aiming for a complete renewable energy portfolio, although time frames for reaching that goal vary by municipality.
Transitioning to a renewables-based energy portfolio, however, isn't as easy as flipping a switch, says ClearPath's Faith Martinez Smith. A policy analyst at ClearPath, a non-profit with offices in Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C., that wants to see expand clean energy through conservative principles, Martinez-Smith caught up with SmartBrief Energy and Chemicals to discuss how deep decarbonization and energy storage is implemented today and how she wants to see it applied in the future.
SmartBrief: What is energy storage, and how does it play in a role in deep decarbonization?
Faith Martinez-Smith: Energy storage has been around for more than a century. It allows us to save electricity to meet peak demand times or it can be used in multiple applications to assist in otherwise balancing and maintaining the grid. This is particularly important in helping renewable power be used when needed even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, as renewables only generate electricity when their “fuel” is available. Energy storage is also helpful to better utilizing another zero-carbon energy source -- nuclear power, which is constantly running and difficult to ramp up or down. Renewables are not the only generating resource available in electricity markets and may have excess generation when demand is limited. If this is the case, the electricity can be saved for later use - whether at an increased price or higher demand, theoretically increasing the use of renewables while simultaneously reducing the use of other generating resources such as fossil fuels. US electricity demand cannot be met by renewables and storage alone, but storage is a vital component of the power mix.
SB: What are the federal government’s current policies toward energy storage research and development, as well as deep decarbonization as a whole? Do the current policies go far enough?
FMS: Federal [research and development] programs have focused mostly on battery technologies with applications in electric vehicles rather than grid-scale development and demonstration storage projects. But that tide may be changing. The recent Trump administration budget request proposes a new $158 million crosscutting Advanced Energy Storage Initiative and $5 million dedicated for a new Grid Storage “Launchpad” strategy that would represent a new long-duration energy storage testing center. These are initial steps following bipartisan House and Senate language last Congress to establish “moonshot” goals for energy storage at the Department of Energy. This is essential in order to prioritize and focus federal R&D dollars towards outcomes. However, Congress still should pass language giving direct authorization to DOE to set and meet moonshot storage goals. These goals would help create lower-cost and more durable grid-scale storage, including batteries. There are multiple bills that may do exactly that this Congress. There is also a need particularly to move beyond lithium ion for energy storage and batteries due to performance and sourcing obstacles.
SB: How does the proposed Green New Deal -- introduced in February by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) -- address energy storage?
FMS: Energy storage is not directly addressed in the resolution itself, rather, it focuses on “achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and meeting 100% of the power demand in the U.S. through clean renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” It could be assumed this would include energy storage, but it could also theoretically include nuclear energy as well. It is technically infeasible to “meet 100% of the power demand through renewable resources.” While it is admirable to push for zero-emission energy sources, it does not need to be limited to renewable resources -- if this were the case, we’d even be leaving hydropower out. However, there are major opportunities to embrace and adopt reliable, clean and affordable energy options, including things like advanced nuclear, carbon capture and direct air capture, energy storage, hydropower, and renewables.
SB: Are there any countries that could be considered models for developing a strong energy storage-related policy?
FMS: One country that instantly comes to mind is the United Kingdom. The UK has several energy storage technologies demonstrated at grid-scale - ranging from batteries to thermal energy such as liquid air energy storage, which stores energy in compressed liquid forms for later use. Most of these developments have occurred as they reform their electricity market to create a level-playing field for all technologies. That includes looking at how storage can compete economically through a guaranteed price for the electricity to be sold.
SB: How can we balance environmental and economic imperatives to achieve deep decarbonization?
FMS: This is something we focus a lot on at ClearPath. We want to see decarbonization at the most economical level possible. Electricity can be generated at lower costs while being clean. However, significant innovation alongside research, development, and demonstrations can help increase the rate at which this occurs. Federal [research and development] needs to be better aligned as a whole with specific, measurable goals to ensure innovation occurs. Simultaneously, there must be financing for first-of-a-kind technologies or demonstration projects in clean technologies. Without funding, innovation or goals, achieving decarbonization cannot truly occur even if we price carbon alone. There must be a multifaceted approach to ensure change occurs and is meaningful.
ClearPath Policy Analyst Faith Martinez-Smith focuses on energy technology and the water-energy nexus. She holds three degrees: a bachelor's degree in environmental science from Salt Lake City's Westminster College and two master's degrees -- one in energy and earth resources and another in energy, environment and technology policy -- from the University of Texas at Austin.