INTRODUCTION: WHY WE WROTE THIS REPORT
“Several of the big trends in in clean electricity depend, in one way or another, on batteries. How fast batteries get better and cheaper will help determine how fast renewable energy grows, how fast fossil fuel power plants get shut down, and how fast the vehicle fleet electrifies.” David Roberts, Vox¹
This report is for activists and foundations who want to understand how battery storage can become a new part of their clean energy and climate advocacy. It is designed to explain the many emerging economic, equity, and environmental trends for battery storage use across all elements of the energy system.
It argues that activists and foundations need creative new strategies to advocate for battery storage in these changing markets.
It tries to answer two basic questions for advocates and foundations: what do we need to know to understand these opportunities, and what actions should we support to realize them?
These are not theoretical concerns. Clean Energy Group (CEG) has been involved in energy storage policy from the public-interest perspective for the last five years.
Groups as diverse as cities, low-income community groups, industry, environmental advocates, foundations, and investors have asked us these questions.
We have prepared this handbook to synthesize and share our knowledge about battery storage policies and our experience working on these market development issues.
We recommend more than 50 key actions that should be taken to make battery storage an essential part of the clean energy transition.
But having said that, this is only a framework, not an encyclopedia of knowledge. This battery storage advocacy field guide likely will raise more questions than it answers. And it certainly is not complete or the final word, as we could well have missed some important issues.
What’s more, some of what we say likely will be discounted or opposed by those with different views, which is expected on these controversial issues. But it should, if considered as a whole, prompt more action and calls for change for how we could advance battery storage, either as a stand-alone system or paired with renewables, to meet our environmental, equity, economic development, and public safety goals.
This paper is arranged in two parts.
The first part outlines 10 key issue areas where CEG has developed a reasonably sound understanding of current market trends in battery storage, the benefits from the technology, and the actions to accelerate change:
Lower Electric Bills: Reducing Demand Charges. The commercial customer-sited economic case for behind-the-meter battery storage.
Resilient Power: Providing Protection in Storms and Outages. In disasters and every-day life, resilient solar PV and battery storage (solar+storage) systems prove better options to protect against power outages.
Equity and Justice: Bending the Arc of the Technology Curve toward Vulnerable Populations. Low-income people should benefit from resilient power now, not years from now through technology trickle down.
Public Health: Creating Greater Protection for Medical Care and Hospitals. Health care facilities should start to explore use of solar+storage for cost reductions and power protection.
Finance: From Mainstream to Low-Income Markets. A tale of two financial worlds demands more action to get new resilient power technologies to the poor.
The Future of Solar: It’s Storage. With changing net metering policies, evolving utility rates, and the need for more flexible generation, storage is essential to future success of solar.
Emissions Reductions: Replacing Fossil-Fueled Peaker (and Maybe Baseload?) Plants. Battery storage could soon put fossil-fueled peaker plants at economic risk, a competitive disruption possibly facing existing fossil-fueled baseload plants over the longer term.
Utility Markets: Emerging Role of Large-Scale Energy Storage Systems. In-front-of-the-meter battery storage is a way to reduce grid-level capacity payments and secure other system benefits.
Electric Vehicle Charging: Optimizing Price and Reducing Power Outages at Public Charging Stations. Utility demand charges and the risk of power outages demand use of on-site storage at public EV charging stations along major highways and transportation routes.
International: Becoming a Global Market. The time is right for an international collaborative effort to scale up storage and overcome market obstacles.
Each of the 10 areas addresses three basic concerns:
- The Issues
- The Opportunities and Challenges
- The Actions
The second part of the paper then explores more recent issues that we have not worked on in detail, but enough to suggest much more analysis and discussion is needed to determine the proper role for battery storage.
The topics covered in the “Emerging Issues: At the Beginning of the Transition” part of the paper, include:
- Will residential systems ever have an economic case for storage?
- Will zero net energy (ZNE) efforts require storage to be part of any building solution?
- What role will storage play in the build out of wind power, especially its role in offshore wind projects?
- Will power-to-gas, a process that converts electrical power to a gas fuel, play a role in long-term energy storage?
- How important will storage be for the economic deferral of utility transmission and distribution system costs?
- What safety standards are needed for the installation of lithium-ion batteries?
- In disasters, should portable solar+storage emergency backup units be made a vailable by emergency responders?
- What must happen to reduce the social and other impacts of the extraction of raw materials for batteries?
- What are the odds that lithium-ion batteries become the indisputable industry standard?
- Is it likely that electric vehicle batteries would be used collectively to support the grid?
- Will batteries power airplanes someday?
- In monopoly utility states, can PURPA be used to force utilities to accept storage projects?
- Can the ubiquitous “blockchain” movement be used to support a peer-to-peer energy marketplace for solar+storage?
- What’s the best federal role to support storage?
- Is there a “right to storage?”
For each topic, we suggest some paths for further inquiry, advocacy, and philanthropy. This guide identifies many significant opportunities for activists and foundations to support battery storage market strategies, so that storage and renewables can produce major environmental, equity, and economic benefits now, not just in the future. This is a hopeful document. Its premise is that we are on the cusp of a significant technological change in energy that we’ve not seen for over 100 years. But this is also a cautionary warning with a serious message. If clean energy and climate activists and their funders do not develop a strategic focus on battery storage, they will miss what could be this generation’s greatest clean energy opportunity.
(1) Roberts, David, “Utilities Fighting Against Rooftop Solar Are Only Hastening Their Own Doom,” Vox, July 7, 2017, https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/7/7/15927250/utilities-rooftop-solar-batteries.
Download this report as a pdf here.
Photo: © Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images