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Grids under strain: How energy storage is the key to a reliable grid

With increasingly volatile weather driven by climate change jeopardizing grid reliability in large portions of the U.S., our nation’s aging power grid is under stress like never before. Energy storage is the foundation for a decarbonized, affordable and resilient grid.

Increasing extreme weather conditions and strain on the power grid

While America’s power grid has been showing signs of distress for years, it is likely to be tested again this year with the onslaught of threats from extreme heat, ongoing drought, and wildfires. Regulators are warning that the kind of rolling outages that have plagued California and Texas over the last couple of years could be far more widespread this year, potentially impacting the West, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and Texas as hot summer weather arrives. Nearly 100 million people faced heat warnings and advisories across the U.S. this week due to an early season heat wave that saw high-temperature records set from California to Texas over the weekend.  

Electricity use soared to an all-time high in Texas this week amid a searing heat wave with the demand on the power grid topping 76.5 gigawatts on June 21 surpassing a record set the previous week. Power use is likely to reach 77.2 GW, setting another new record later that same week. While Texas regularly tops 100 degrees (38 Celsius), it’s still early in the season for temperatures to be so extreme. 

Extended periods of intense heat waves are likely to continue across the U.S throughout the summer. They are expected to continue pushing power usage even higher, elevating the risk of energy shortfalls. California is likely to have a supply shortfall of 1700 MW, equivalent to the power required by approximately 1.3 million homes; according to some models, under the most extreme scenarios, the projected shortfall could reach 5000MW, the power needed by about 3.7 million homes. The Midwest is also grappling with forecasts that it lacks the power needed to get through a heat wave which indicates a risk of power outages for millions of homes.  

While some regulators erroneously believe that the early retirement of fossil fuels has led us here and question the rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, clean energy experts believe that the more greenhouse gasses (GHG) that are emitted from the power sector, the more frequent and severe extreme weather events will become. This will cause a vicious cycle of increased GHG emissions and electricity disruptions in every region of the country. Grid experts agree that reliance on fossil fuels will exacerbate climate change and will continue to place pressure on the aging electric grid. Furthermore, the fossil fuel systems specifically designed to provide baseload and ramping capabilities to preclude power outages have, themselves, not always been sufficient in safeguarding grid reliability.

As climate concerns continue to mount, the need to meet our decarbonization goals has only become more urgent. We must electrify much of our transportation, building, and industrial sectors. By some accounts, this electrification will triple our nation’s dependence on the grid. As the decarbonization of the electric grid is becoming central to addressing climate change, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are providing an increasing share of power generation. Coupled with the continued growth of distributed energy resources and the retirement of conventional generation, this is fundamentally changing how the grid is planned and operated. In particular, the inherent variability of wind and solar power creates a need to balance supply and demand—for example, by using energy storage to fill gaps.  

Role of energy storage in getting to a decarbonized and reliable grid

The energy storage industry has seen unprecedented growth in the last year: the increasing build-out of renewables and broader transition away from fossil fuels are key drivers of storage growth across the country. However, we’re only at the beginning of an exponential growth curve, with current deployment levels several orders of magnitude below the aggregate generation capacity of the grid. So, there’s a long way to go before storage starts realizing all its intended benefits. In the coming years, energy storage systems will be critical to making the grid more flexible. It will also be integral to making renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, financially and logistically viable at the scale needed to decarbonize our power grid, improve grid reliability, and combat climate change.  

Energy storage systems provide several benefits to the grid. When co-located with renewable energy plants, they can store excess clean energy generated and then deliver it to the grid when needed. This helps balance supply and demand and stabilize the grid during peak periods, without using costly polluting peaker plants. With batteries to bridge the gap during extreme weather conditions, electricity prices can be stabilized, mitigating risk and supporting operational continuity for energy users.  

As new projects continue to face multiyear waiting lists and unreasonably high costs to interconnect to U.S. transmission grids, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proposed sweeping new rules recently that could unlock large amounts of renewable energy and battery storage across the country. While these new reforms are being implemented, concerns about grid reliability and the inability to get low-cost clean energy to customers continue to mount. Storage can be deployed at the transmission and distribution levels to improve reliability by managing power flows. It can also be sited to reduce congestion on powerlines, deferring or displacing costly system upgrades.  

“Behind the meter” residential energy storage systems provide another potential lever for balancing energy demand and supply. Residential batteries can be aggregated and dispatched to provide grid support services. As blackouts become more frequent, many in Texas and California are also turning to residential solar power and battery storage for backup power. Overall, energy storage systems can increase grid resiliency, provide backup power during power outages, stabilize the grid, lower the cost of meeting peak power demand, increase the value of wind and solar installations, reduce transmission infrastructure costs, and provide numerous other benefits.

Energy storage systems are fundamental to building a decarbonized, resilient, reliable, and affordable electric grid required today and in the coming years. As storage systems begin providing a diverse set of critical grid services, the need for assurance of performance, reliability, interoperability, and security of these platforms increases. DNV experts work with investors, independent power providers, grid operators, utilities, project developers, communities, and regulators to identify, evaluate, assess, and test energy storage and distributed energy systems to ensure that they are affordable, reliable and can integrate seamlessly into today’s grid to meet electricity demand today and in the future.
6/23/2022 1:17:18 PM

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Pooja Shah

Pooja Shah

Senior Consultant, Energy Storage