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Energy Bills in Congressional Review This Week Lean Heavily on Energy Storage

Scientific American

Sometimes its easy to forget that both the Senate and the House of Representatives are working on more than just the topics that grab the headlines in the newspaper and the leads in the evening news, but energy topics do remain a priority for many Congressmen, and this week is poised to be a significant one for energy legislation.

In the Senate, the relevant committee (the Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee) is poised to debate and potentially move forward a number of energy bills, and it’s clear that energy storage has become one of the committee’s top priorities.

First on the docket is S. 1602, proposed by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, which would allocate $300 million over the next five years into energy storage research. The main goal of this funding is in R&D, looking to advance the technology to bring costs down, similar to how public funds into solar R&D have successfully dropped PV prices a substantial amount to create a hot market for the energy source.

Another bill proposed that seeks to pour needed funds into energy storage is S. 2048, introduced by Independent Senator Angus King of Maine and Republican Senator Martha McSally of Arizona. Specifically targeting demonstration for long-duration energy storage, this bill would provide $500 million in total funds over the coming five ears to compel the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and the Department of Defense’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program to team up and accelerate commercial deployment of the technology. The inclusion of the Department of Defense is compelling, as it demonstrates the importance to resilience and security that the military sees in energy storage technologies.

Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has proposed S. 1183 to inject $25 million in grants that would specifically provide support for rural electric cooperatives to explore and install energy storage and microgrid projects. These more remote regions of the United States tend to be further away from centralized generation sources, so the support for these projects would enable deployment in these rural areas which would be a valuable precursor to expanding renewable generation and distributed energy resources.

The dollar amounts only go up from there, though. Tina Smith, the other Democrat Senator from Minnesota, has proposed S. 1593 to inject over $1 billion in research funds for battery storage over the next five years, while attempting to bring disconnected research efforts under one umbrella and open the funds up to both private and public entities who want to embrace energy storage.

Not to be outdone, though, comes Democrat Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and his proposed S. 1741. This bill would allocate $3.3 billion of funds for the U.S. Department of Energy’s energy storage research in the next 10 years.

When looking at these proposals all at once, coming from both sides of the aisle, it becomes clear that energy storage and supporting its R&D is a priority that has a somewhat rare consensus. The only real questions for debate are how much money should be funneled to support this technology and through what format. The committee will have its hands full, and it would not be unexpected to see some of the provisions of various bills combined, connected to each other, or dropped for other measures once their sponsors are satisfied that their priorities have been integrated. So the passing of five different bills coming out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee is not likely, but with such support there’s reason for optimism that something positive for the energy storage sector will come out of this week in the Senate.

How critical do you think these types of federal funds are to energy storage becoming more efficient, affordable, and ubiquitous? If it were up to you, what would be the traits of such bills coming out of the Senate to best support the energy storage industries in the most useful, direct, and forward-looking manner? I want to hear from you in the comments!

Matt Chester's picture

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on July 8, 2019

Matt, though Susan Collins, Amy Klobuchar, Angus King and Ron Wyden probably did well on the debate team in school, I would bet none of them were the stars of science class. Not that you need to be a scientist to be a politician - in the U.S., it doesn't make a lot of sense for talented scientists to go into politics. There's better pay in the private sector, and in politics there are a lot of people a lot stupider than the four above. For the best and brightest, you couldn't pay them enough.

Hopefully a qualified physicist or engineer will at least step forward to testify against these bills before they make it to the Senate floor. Why? Because spending any money to power the grid on "storage" is a fool's errand, one making the folly of renewable energy look like Nobel Prize material. Steve Goreham, in his EC article Battery Storage - An Infinitesimal Part of Electrical Power, explains better than I could why trying to power a grid with batteries makes as much sense as trying to launch satellites into space on rockets powered by electric fans:

"Renewable advocates now propose electricity storage to solve the intermittency problem and to help renewable energy replace traditional coal, natural gas, and nuclear generators. When wind and solar output is high, excess electricity would be stored in batteries and then delivered when renewable output is low, to try to replace traditional power plants that generate electricity around the clock.

Headlines laud the growth of battery installations for grid storage, growing 80% last year and up 400% from 2014. But the amount of US electricity stored by batteries today is less than miniscule."

Steve doesn't mention at least 15% of energy stored in any form - li-ion batteries, pumped water, compressed air - is wasted; that charging batteries with wind and solar renders both sources unavailable to power the grid; that li-ion batteries, the most efficient way to store energy, need to be replaced every decade. He shouldn't need to, but he does.

Similarly, we shouldn't need to spend $300 million to find out why running a grid on batteries won't work. But if it keeps us from spending $1 trillion on batteries that don't work, it's money well spent.

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