Trump administration sees energy storage as a national security tool

Source: By John Siciliano and Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Trump administration is pushing energy storage technology not just for boosting renewable energy, but also for protecting national security, because of its ability to provide backup power enabling the grid to recover faster after power outages.

“It’s more strategic than that [being just about renewables],” Bruce Walker, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for the Office of Electricity, told Josh. “Not only do you get the benefit of further integrating renewables, but we get to add resiliency into the electric grid in a way that is much more durable during hazards whether it’s hurricanes or tornadoes, and additionally it has the benefit from cyber and physical threats against the nation to provide a layer of resiliency into the system for survivability.”

Josh spoke with Walker on the sidelines of the Edison Electric Institute’s annual convention in Philadelphia.

What else storage can do: While clean energy advocates tout storage as key to meeting 100% clean electricity goals to allow for more use of wind and solar, the Trump administration, eager to invoke invoke national security whenever it can, is speaking about storage for its other attributes.

For example, Walker said, storage benefits the entire grid by balancing supply and demand instantaneously, lowering costs for consumers by helping to avoid problems during “peak demand.” When demand is greater than supply, storage can discharge the stored energy to the grid quickly.

“We don’t put a number on penetration of green and renewable energy,” Walker said. “You’ve heard the secretary [Rick Perry] reference storage as the ‘holy grail,’ and we believe that. It’s about having storage capability during times of emergency, during times of crisis, even during normal course of business when you are running peak load. It’s really just to provide another tool in the toolbox that improves our capacity as an industry to operate during blue sky days and black sky days.”

DOE budget guns for storage: The Trump administration cites proof of its passion for storage with its recent fiscal 2020 budget request that contains surprising provisions to advance new storage technologies, despite proposals to dial back funding for renewable and energy efficiency programs.

The Energy Department’s budget proposal calls for creating an “Advanced Energy Storage Initiative (AESI),” a coordinated effort to spend research, development, and demonstration dollars on “grid-scale” long-duration storage that can carry large amounts of excess energy for months at a time.

Utilities across the country are deploying lithium ion batteries to meet some storage needs, but that technology has limitations because most have limited durations, requiring the development of other storage types that have not been commercialized yet.

The new initiative, if funded by Congress, would focus on advancing different types of technologies. But it also contains a “launchpad” grid-scale storage partnership to be hosted at the Pacific Northwest National Lab that would be focused on testing and developing battery technologies for grid-scale use.

Last year, the Energy Department announced a $30 million funding research program to develop battery storage systems that can provide power to the grid for up to 100 hours.

Congress likes storage too: The Energy Department efforts jibe with a recent bipartisan billintroduced by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, directing the agency to establish a research, development, and demonstration program for grid-scale energy storage.

There are other bipartisan initiatives in Congress to help energy storage, including bills in the House and Senate to make storage eligible for the investment tax credit — incentives that have helped lower the cost of wind and solar.

Walker would not weigh in on specific bills proposed in Congress, but he said he’s confident Congress will agree to fund the Energy Department’s storage initiative because of a shared interest in protecting national security.

“The importance our grid plays in our national economy and national security, I don’t think it’s a partisan issue at all,” Walker said. “It’s about really ensuring the lifeblood of this country — the electric grid — is available during times of crisis, as well as during peak demand.”