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Renewable energy storage a potential ‘game changer’ division learns

Is energy storage the “Holy Grail” of renewable energy? After all, it’s one thing to generate electricity via solar, wind and hydroelectric means, but quite another to save it for future use.

The House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division devoted its Thursday meeting to accruing information about the state of storage.

Ellen Anderson, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab and a former state senator, joined seven other presenters in emphasizing that storage capability is rapidly increasing and costs are going down.

Coming on the heels of two Tuesday hearings about HF700 that would mandate a move to 100 percent carbon-free energy in Minnesota by 2050, this meeting was about how that energy can be stored and dispatched to the electric grid.

Anderson said that the “Holy Grail” analogy she’s frequently heard in recent years is “because it has the potential to really make renewable energy useful and dispatchable at any hour of the day or night. … And that certainly may be true, especially as we begin to develop some other kinds of longer-duration storage, such as flow batteries, and to use some more traditional forms of energy storage, such as pumped hydro.”

Batteries are the most widely-known form of energy storage, yet Anderson said that “pumped hydro” has the highest capacity. That refers to storage being used in several states that relies upon pumped water to harness potential energy.

“We really consider energy storage a game changer in our energy systems,” Anderson said, “and that’s been especially true in recent years with the fast growth in advanced battery technology. Since 2011, installed battery storage capability has almost doubled every two years in the United States and prices have dropped significantly and they’re expected to continue dropping. Most of that growth and price reduction has been in the area of lithium-ion technology.”

Brian Burandt, vice president of Connexus Energy, which opened the state’s largest solar storage facility in Anoka County last month, said it reached its highest capacity yet during last week’s 21-below day, thanks to clear skies.

Beth Soholt, executive director of Clean Grid Alliance, said storage of renewable energy can be deployed in all parts of the grid, from generation to end use by consumers. But, she added, “We really don’t know what the best and highest use of storage is going to be.”

Anderson added that storage will present new issues for legislators.

“Storage doesn’t fit into our traditional regulatory and policy rules and regimes. It’s unique in our energy system because it’s not technically generation of electricity, but it can inject electricity into the grid. It’s not technically demand reduction, but it can take away load from the grid when it’s needed. It’s not transmission, but it can function in lieu of transmission in many cases.”


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