Sen. Franken: Not investing in energy storage is ‘negligent’

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Speaking during a June 9 U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on energy accountability and reform legislation, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) called for greater investment in energy storage.

“If you think about what a game-changer [hydraulic fracturing] was and is, and how much of that came out of federal government research, and knowing what a game-changer energy storage is going to be, we would be negligent if we did not invest in energy storage,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said on June 9.

“I’ve introduced the Advancing Grid Storage Act [of 2015 – Senate Bill (SB) 1256], which will advance [research and development] funding so our scientists and engineers can have the resources they need to innovate and bring down the cost of [energy storage] technologies,” Franken said during the hearing, according to a live webcast of the event. “My bill also provides technical assistance and loans to those who want to deploy energy storage systems.”

The committee considered 42 bills, including Franken’s Advancing Grid Storage Act, in the fourth and final legislative hearing related to a broad energy bill that the committee is assembling.

“When we first started this process some weeks ago, we weren’t sure exactly how these hearings would go, but I am very pleased with the strong participation from our members, the generally collegial spirit that has marked our discussions, and really the number of bills we have been able to consider throughout this process,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the committee, said in her opening statement for the hearing.

“Counting the 42 bills that we are reviewing [in this hearing], the committee will have reviewed a total of 114 over the past several weeks. That’s a significant accomplishment, and the work that went into it, I think, will provide us with a better understanding of the many ideas for our nation’s energy policy, as we sit down to craft our larger bill.”

The Advancing Grid Storage Act, which Franken introduced on May 7, would create a $50 million program for research of energy storage systems within the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which is a U.S. government agency that promotes and funds research and development of advanced energy technologies. The bill was referred immediately to the committee.

The bill also directs the Secretary of Energy to establish a program to provide eligible entities with loans for the demonstration and deployment of energy storage systems in a specific project, as well as loans to provide funding for programs to finance the demonstration and deployment of multiple energy storage systems through a revolving loan fund, credit enhancement program or other financial assistance.

Eligible entities include states, state energy offices, tribal organizations, institutions of higher education, rural electric cooperatives, municipal electric utilities and investor-owned utilities.

Speaking on the necessity of energy storage research, Norman Augustine, board member for the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that the federal government should support early-phase, high-risk research.

“I can think of very few areas where a breakthrough would be more significant than in energy storage,” Augustine said. “Energy storage limits us today in terms of the efficiency of the grid, automotive electrification and even mobile pocket devices. Energy storage is really on a critical path.”

Augustine added that he is disappointed in the gains the United States has made in energy storage.

“[It’s] disappointing, in part, because it’s a tough problem in chemistry and physics, and in part, because we just haven’t invested in that area,” he said.

Augustine recommended that the committee find a way to increase the investment the government has made in energy storage and improve the connections between government research labs and industry.

During the hearing, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Under Secretary for Science and Energy Lynn Orr outlined the areas of government research currently underway in energy storage.

“Perhaps the most visible program is the joint center for energy storage research at [the Argonne National Laboratory] that is a collaboration of both university and lab [employees] working on the chemistries that are beyond lithium ions to make batteries to have higher energy density and good power delivery, lower weight and address safety problems,” he said.

“We also have a variety of energy frontier research centers [that are] funded out of the [DOE] Office of Science, and they focus on the fundamentals of chemistry, electro-chemistry, nano structured materials, and understanding the fundamentals of material properties that will go into making better batteries.”

Orr also said that, on the applied side, the DOE Vehicle Technologies Office works on batteries for applications in vehicles. In addition, the DOE Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability focuses on research for grid-level energy storage.

“What’s so interesting about the energy storage area is that it applies to everything from a cell phone up to the grid, on a variety of timescales, from the short-term variations for a wind turbine, to the day-night variations or even to the winter-summer variations, and it can be a very important contributor to a stable grid operating with a lot of intermittent distributed generation in the future,” he said.

Among the bills considered during the hearing was SB 1434, a bill to amend the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act to establish an energy storage portfolio standard, which Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced on May 21. It was referred immediately to the committee.

According to the bill text, the bill would create a standard for each retail electric supplier, by Jan. 1, 2021, to have retail electric supplier energy storage devices with a power capacity rating equal to not less than 1 percent of the annual average peak power demand of the system, as measured over a one-hour period and averaged over the period of calendar years 2017-2019.

As part of the standard, each retail electric supplier, by Jan. 1, 2025, would be required to have retail electric supplier energy storage devices with a power capacity rating equal to not less than 2 percent of the annual average peak power demand of the system, as measured over a one-hour period and averaged over the period of calendar years 2021-2023.

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