The Importance of Battery Storage Technology in the Transition to Renewable Energy

March 6, 2020

One of the key factors hindering widespread development of renewable energy is inconsistency. The sun is not always shining, and the wind cannot be timed to blow at peak energy demands. The bridge to expanding the use of renewable energy lies in storage, specifically battery storage. However, there have been issues in the development of batteries. The most commonly used batteries, lithium-ion batteries, lack the scalability to effectively storage energy and are highly flammable, posing a safety risk. Researchers have found possible solutions to these issues, however, in the form of redox-flow batteries.

Redox flow batteries are designed with two tanks of electrolytes, which can be made larger to increase the storage capability of the battery. This solves the scalability problem posed by lithium-ion batteries. However, the electrolyte chosen to fuel the batteries poses a dilemma. It is either toxic and expensive or sustainable and quick to degrade. 

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have worked to address these concerns. Their research was based MRI principles – observing batteries to figure out how they operate and fail in order to effectively tackle the issues. Electrolytes made of organic molecules were the focus, as researchers were attempting to understand why the molecules degraded so quickly. The molecules were observed “using real time nuclear magnetic resonance.”  This use of magnetic resonance led researchers to discover that “charge conditions” and the structure of the organic molecule matter.This development in battery storage technology could be essential in helping cities and states reach their renewable energy targets. It also hints at the complexity of these targets, particularly as utilities work to figure out how to service their customers. Further undermining 

the transition to renewable energy is a decision by the Trump Administration to defund investment tax credits that have boosted solar development in recent years. The Chair of the California Energy Commission, David Hochschild, argues it is now on the states to implement the transition to a renewable energy future and address climate change. 

In 2015, Hawaii was the first state to pass a law that mandated a transition to 100% renewable energy. Numerous states have followed suit. Utilities have played a large role in reaching the targets set by state legislatures. For example, in states that have renewable portfolio standards, utilities are required to supply a certain amount of electricity through renewable energy. However, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) still has influence and can restrict renewable energy from being sold to the market.

On February 20, 2020 FERC issued a set of orders that approved market rules to “protect competition” and supplies in the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) capacity market. According to critics, these orders would make it “more difficult for new clean energy projects expected in [NY] to clear NYISO’s capacity auction.” The FERC Chairman disagrees, stating that the goal of the orders was to ensure the competitiveness of NYISO’s capacity market by protecting it from price-distortion.

The FERC orders come on the heels of New York’s most recent renewable energy program which requires utilities to meet 100% clean energy targets by 2040. Undermining this transition could make it harder for NY and other states to meet their targets and prevent the energy sector from addressing and adapting to climate change. 

Julia Prieto