ESA Conference: Obama climate deputy says renewables push needs energy storage

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — The quickened pace of global momentum tackling climate change will drive a “virtuous cycle” that benefits renewables and energy storage technologies, a key Obama Administration expert on the environment said Wednesday.

Utilities and consumers embracing wind and solar are helping reduce power emissions in the U.S., Rick Duke said during the keynote address for the final day of the 26th annual Energy Storage Association Conference & Expo in Charlotte. Duke is deputy director for the White House climate change efforts.

But those intermittent renewables require stabilizing and load smoothing resources like energy storage, Duke added. The most recent federal budget allocated more than $160 million on storage R&D.

“When you step back and think about this power sector transformation in the U.S. and the global picture coming out of Paris we really are at global inflection point on energy markets and associated technologies like storage,” Duke said.

This confluence of domestic and global climate directives includes the recent Paris accord involving dozens of nations promising to cut emissions, he noted. Meanwhile, the clean energy economy hit a record $268 billion worldwide last year.

Domestically stable tax credits and falling costs should double wind and solar capacity over the next five years.

“You’ve got all kinds of reasons the grid needs storage,” Duke told the crowd of about 1,000 storage industry leaders.

The Clean Power Plan, unveiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, calls for a 32 percent reduction in power plant carbon emissions by 2030. Every state has a target reduction, while many utilities already are retiring coal plants and replacing their output with lower-emitting natural gas-fired generation and combination of zero-emission sources like nuclear, wind and solar.

And although many states are suing to stop the CPP-and the Supreme Court has issued a stay while the rule is being appealed—Duke contended that the work will go on.

“The Clean Power Plan is really the centerpiece driving the next 15 years,” he said. “It’s federalist in design, putting the states in control.”

About two dozen of those states, particularly those from coal-rich regions, might disagree. The Obama Administration has given them some tough targets to hit on emissions, such as nearly 50 percent in North Dakota.

Yet Duke noted that even Mexico, historically an oil-focused nation, has committed itself to embracing and integrating more renewables. The Paris climate accord also showed dozens of nations are vowing to be transparent in reaching carbon reductions, he added.

China promised three years ago to cap its emissions by 2030. And India is working to quadruple its renewable portfolio to 175 GW by 2022.

In other words, he said, the world is moving on and the U.S. needs to jump onboard.

“There’s consensus among governments that we’ve got to get this done,” Duke told the energy storage audience. “And domestically we’re seeing poll after poll like that.”

And where renewables go, storage should follow.

“Storage is an incredibly important technology to manage loads systemwide,” he said.

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