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A 100 percent clean power sector by 2035? Only if we clear the path for storage

Sponsored: Dependable, renewable power supply relies on advancing battery storage policies and solutions. A clean energy CEO weighs in on what’s next.


This article is sponsored by: Enel Green Power

It’s been almost one year since the White House announced a set of ambitious climate goals, calling for a 100 percent carbon-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050. So where do we stand with decarbonization?

The latest data from 2020 showed renewable energy sources making up about 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation. Then last year, momentum for renewable energy capacity installations continued, driven by rapid technological advancement, lower resource costs and — notably — the growing case for battery storage. In 2022, renewable energy growth is set to accelerate even more, as climate concern continues to mount and demand for cleaner power sources increases across markets.

But to scale renewables to the level needed for a 100 percent clean power sector, we must address the energy storage elephant in the room. Storage systems are fundamental in building a resilient and reliable electric grid that’s exclusively powered by renewable sources. And in the U.S., our current utility-scale storage systems only represent the tip of the iceberg.

Where we are: hybrid renewable energy + storage

Reliability is the operative word. As we add intermittent renewable energy sources to the grid and are faced with more frequent and intense weather events, such as heatwaves and cold snaps — future-proofing power grids means strengthening reliability. To do so, we need more electricity generation, more resource diversity and more reliability services. Hybrid renewable energy-plus-storage projects provide all three, which makes them a competitive solution in our current environment.

Hybrid projects combine energy and storage technologies into a single system — such as solar-plus-storage or wind-plus-storage. The battery storage systems installed on site at a renewable energy plant can store the excess clean energy generated and then deliver it to the grid within seconds when needed. This helps balance supply and demand and stabilize the grid during peak periods, without using costly, polluting peaker plants that drive up energy prices. With batteries to bridge the gap — come rain, snow or shine — the lights stay on at a more stable price, mitigating risk and supporting operational continuity for energy users.

These hybrid projects are currently the most efficient and cost-effective applications of large-scale battery storage in the U.S. At Enel Green Power, we’re planning to add 6.5 GW of new renewables and 1.4 GW of storage capacity to region by the end of 2024. Much of this growth will incorporate the hybrid plant model, like our Lily solar-plus-storage project in Texas.

Where we need to go: Realizing the full potential of storage

So why do I say that this is just the tip of the iceberg for energy storage? It’s a classic case of technology innovation outpacing regulatory reform. Energy markets are not designed to fully leverage the storage technology that currently exists.

The lithium-ion batteries prevalent and competitive today are great for supporting short-term spikes in demand — they can deliver full power from two to eight hours. But we have the technology for eight- to 10-hour duration, too, just not the market for it.

If we’re to replace traditional power sources completely, market structures and policies will have to change to better integrate and leverage storage solutions that are suited for prolonged demand peaks and weather disruptions. And as long-duration technology advances even further — storage that can deliver electricity for days — markets need to prepare and keep pace. This is the only way we’ll be able to achieve a truly carbon-free power sector we can rely on. And ultimately, that’s where we’re headed.

The Department of Energy has this goal on its radar. Last year, it launched an effort as part of its Energy Earthshot initiative to push down costs of long-duration energy storage by 90 percent by 2030. But on the state level, there is still a significant need to remove barriers to storage deployment. States such as New York and California are leading the way, setting aggressive storage goals and then backing up those targets — in partnership with utilities and grid operators — with financial and policy incentives for action. But only nine U.S. states have set targets for energy storage at all.

At a global level, Enel has seen the greater potential storage can realize when it’s supported with sophisticated regulation — and we know the U.S. can do the same.

Achieving a 100 percent clean grid

With more widespread regulatory support of storage, we can and will meet the challenge of a fully decarbonized power sector. Hybrid renewable plants are a crucial stepping stone toward an economy powered by 100 percent clean electricity. And with innovation and market alignment, long-duration storage solutions will get us across the finish line.

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