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You Light Up My Life - Long-Duration Energy Storage to Play Critical Role in Renewables Buildout, Grid Reliability

The intermittent nature of renewable energy is a well-documented thorn in the side of efforts to decarbonize the power grid, especially with more wind and solar generation coming online every year. But while those sources of clean energy are not available all the time, it’s also true that they can sometimes produce more power than transmission lines or a power grid can handle during other periods, leading to curtailments. An increasingly important tool that can lessen the impact of both problems is power storage. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll address the limitations of today’s storage options and look at how long-duration energy storage (LDES) could play a critical role in the years ahead.

Imperative to any energy system is a way to balance variations in supply and demand — i.e., storage. Storage infrastructure for primary energy sources like crude oil and natural gas has grown and matured over the past century and we’ve done a lot of blogs in the past covering the ins and outs. These systems are well understood and efficient and, despite the push to decarbonization, can and will continue to be the primary storage mechanism serving the market for as long as fossil fuels dominate energy production. Efficient and cost-effective power storage has been a much tougher nut to crack, so it hasn’t been developed to the same extent as the primary sources mentioned above. That said, the continued adoption of renewable power generation has catalyzed the development of electricity storage. Large-scale deployment is in its infancy but it has the potential to play a more significant role down the road, especially in states like California and Texas that already have significant amounts of renewable capacity online. With a rising emphasis on renewables, the development of new solutions has been gaining momentum and has led to a myriad of potential strategies — all with benefits and drawbacks. Some, like pumped hydro, have been around since the dawn of the 20th century but are getting renewed attention. Then there are the more creative solutions: molten salt, heat engines, gravity batteries, flywheels and, our favorite, hydrogen. We’ll talk about a couple of these in today’s blog. But we’ll start with the elephant in the room when it comes to power storage: batteries.

Most power storage online today is done with batteries designed to provide power for just a few hours or longer, such as Kapolei Energy Storage (KES) in Hawaii, which began operations in January 2024 after numerous delays. KES serves about 95% of Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents on the islands of Hawaii, Lanai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu. As we discussed in Can’t Help Falling in Love, KES has 185 megawatts (MW) of power capacity and 585 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy capacity — enough to meet 17% of Oahu’s electricity demand for three hours at peakload or six hours at half the load. Designed to be charged primarily by renewable sources, it was developed to help make up for the September 2022 closure of the 180-MW Barbers Point coal plant nearby, enhance grid reliability and accelerate the integration of renewable energy.

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