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Energy storage goes patriotic

Today we look at fresh industry arguments about the implementation of energy storage and the strategic use of language to gain a place at the table. While the linguistic strategy is admirable, the storage industry's recommendations may sound familiar to the various camps in this discussion.

The myriad roles that energy storage can—or should, in some minds—play in the nation's grid is being closely debated, particularly by regulators and diverse stakeholders in California.

Our most recent pieces on the topic include "Bulk Energy Storage: A Modest Proposal," "Energy Storage and the Barriers to Adoption" and "California's Energy Storage Policies."

The first piece cited the Coalition to Advance Renewable Energy Through Bulk Storage (CAREBS), an industry group that has proposed ways to monetize and value bulk storage. In the second piece, we looked at nine hurdles to adoption cited by California regulators. The third piece attempted to capture the competing interests involved in energy storage policy and the approach that California has taken to a truly complicated subject.

In each case, proponents, opponents and those utilities exploring storage applications for data-driven decisions in the matter all have some basis for their argument. Proponents say that if you don't actually implement storage, you'll never have real-world data upon which to base decisions around deployment and cost recovery. Some opponents say that the market should dictate everything: without a clear-cut case in favor of deployment, why burden the grid and the ratepayer? Utilities would prefer to conduct demonstration projects for promising applications and evaluate the data before moving forward.

Comes now the National Alliance for Advanced Technology Batteries, assisted by KEMA, whose new paper—"Distributed Energy Storage: Serving National Interests"—articulates a fresh approach in an election year whose outcome is uncertain. The trio of reasons why NAATBatt wants to advance "wide-scale distributed energy storage" in the United States?

  • Enhance national security and the economy
  •  Develop and secure national energy supplies
  • Support national energy independence


This is a time-honored use of language, particularly as NAATBatt's argument cannot wait for the outcome of the presidential election this fall. (The election outcome, of course, may well require a fresh argument tailored to the victor's energy policy, should any such policy actually emerge in a country scarred by a decade of war and a half-decade of recession in which pure demagoguery has replaced all rational discourse.) The paper was presented to current Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in Washington, D.C. in mid-April. In terms of odds you'd go with the incumbent, initially, but it could easily be presented to the new Republican nominee. 

Would any candidate come out against motherhood and apple pie? Or "national," "secure" "energy independence"? Of course not. Bingo! An argument thus has a greater likelihood  of a hearing. That's always the first step: get the conversation—your conversation—going. Then, the substance.

The NATTBatt membership includes "industrial companies, electric utilities and advanced materials suppliers." The mission is to encourage "the development of a combined, multi-gigawatt market for advanced automotive batteries and distributed stationary batteries" and U.S. leadership in advanced battery technology for the "long-term health of the U.S. economy" and "tens of thousands of future U.S. jobs."  

The argument for distributed energy storage or DES: Four trends—intermittent renewables, the nascent electric vehicle market, advances in power electronics and DC/AC inverters and deployment of smart grid infrastructure—all combine to pose risks to grid reliability, stability and security. I quote the executive summary:

"By employing the nation's innovations in advanced battery systems, DES is poised to help address the growing challenges our electric energy infrastructure will face as demand for electricity increases and as the distribution system must manage greater levels of distribution grid-connected and smart grid system-enabled technologies such as EVs and renewable and distributed generation."

Modernizing the grid, in part by using DES, then is "critical to supporting America's prosperity, security and quality of life." There's a tenuous connection there that, properly couched, just might appeal to both sides of the aisle in Congress.

Acknowledging the barriers to deployment, NAATBatt suggests that regulated utilities (i.e., investor-owned utilities) will be the primary owner/operator of such systems. Thus, IOUs need operational experience with them to understand the benefits of deployment. And they need standards and specs to create a uniform basis for comparing experiences. Further, "no clear regulatory procedure exists" for operators to apply for compensation for benefits provided to the system by DES. And the diffuse nature of benefits makes it difficult to monetize the value of DES to the nation.

So NATTBatt recommends a program of demonstration projects to validate DES applications, compensate ratepayers who pay for DES, perhaps through tax credits to utilities, establish a national approach to regulatory reform on DES and, among other things, continue to fund research, development and deployment (a phrase that creates a tidy linkage between a nascent technology and the market).

My take? I can't argue with most of these assertions and we've written on, for instance, AEP Ohio's work with community energy storage (CES) and purported advancements in EV batteries, both of which are covered by NAATBatt's arguments.

(See "Another Step for Distributed Storage" and "EV Range Jump, Price Drop, Possible `Soon'?")

Those arguments essentially require federal action to keep funding demonstration projects begun under the DOE's stimulus program, to expand those demo projects and to coordinate a federal push on state regulatory reform to allow the industry to move forward. Wrapping these arguments in the flag (the NATTBatt logo includes red, white and blues stripes) is an effective approach that can appeal to the current administration's instincts on grid modernization while pushing "national," "secure" and "energy independence" buttons for the contender.

Let's see how it plays.

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily



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