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NREL Bullish on Energy Storage Advances

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Utilities face a load management conundrum as they try to move away from fossil fuels to renewables. They need to store surplus renewable energy, so it is available during peak usage periods. To date, the process has been complex because of renewables’ ephemeral nature. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) expects the industry to break through with new advances, so the two business drivers are in balance.

Those deductions are in the NREL Storage Futures Study (SFS) report, which uses advanced data modeling to explore how energy storage will influence the electricity grid moving forward. Renewable use has been growing. At the end of 2019, the U.S. had 1,650 MW of battery storage installed but because of recent advances, that number is expected to grow tenfold by 2024.

Addressing Recharging Challenges

The additional capacity should be available during peak usage periods for a few reasons. The NREL study determined that renewable energy is needed most – more than 75% of capacity – during the top 10 net load hours when demand is highest. Consequently, its storage systems would need to be charged during the day when solar production is at its highest.

Additionally, the model found that high storage penetration leads to higher efficiency. The analysis considered a scenario where 660 GW of storage is deployed, then adjusted it in 5% (roughly 33 GW) increments. Under high-end scenarios, the number of natural gas combustion turbine starts from peaker plants drops from 400 per day (in a reference case with 80% storage penetration) to as low as five (in a scenario with high natural gas and low battery costs and the highest storage capacity).

The flexibility of renewable storage was another plus, one that also allowed arbitrage across regions, resulting in more flow across transmission lines. This change enables the use of the lowest-cost resource mix while also reducing congestion.

Renewables Address Pressing Issues  

Furthermore, the increase in battery capacity decreases CO2 emissions and air pollutants. So, moving to renewables improves public health.

The boosts in renewable energy storage technology come as grid operators craft new rules to best integrate storage onto the grid and allow it to participate in the electricity markets. Batteries and other storage tools play a significant role in providing needed reliability. 

US utilities are trying to move from a legacy grid design to a modern infrastructure. Concerns about renewable energy storage blunted interest in the technology. Suppliers have been addressing storage shortcomings, making renewables more attractive to energy providers.

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