Multiyear Study Concludes With Key Learnings, All Indicating Rapid Growth of Energy Storage

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According to the Storage Futures study (SFS), energy storage will play an important role in a future grid that is low-carbon, flexible and resilient.

In 2020, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy, launched the SFS to study the evolution of energy storage. The series began with a visionary framework to increase energy storage deployment and time over time. Five subsequent reports covered the same vision. The final report summarizes key learnings from all the series.

Nate Blair, the principal investigator of this study, stated that each phase of the study indicated an upcoming wave of energy storage. The U.S. storage capacity will increase by at least fivefold by 2050. “Overall, energy storage is significant in terms of ease of grid operation, lower cost thermal start-ups, and reduced emissions.

NREL modeled hundreds more scenarios to understand the forces behind energy storage deployment. Researchers improved NREL’s public-available Regional Energy Deployment System capacity expansion model to accurately reflect the diurnal (12 hour) value of battery energy storage. This was a complex modeling challenge.

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ReEDS developed a set of robust future high-storage system scenarios that included different assumptions regarding storage, wind, PV, and natural gas. NREL used a commercially-available production cost model (PLEXOS) to simulate grid operations in ReEDS scenarios.

NREL also added storage capabilities to its open source Distributed Generation Market Demand model (dGen). This allows customers to adopt solar-plus-storage systems with different backup-power values.

The model enhancements have opened up many new research avenues for energy storage and the future grid.

NREL found that diurnal storage deployment could be anywhere from 130 gigawatts up to 680 gigawatts by 2050 in all simulated scenarios. This is sufficient to support renewable generation at 80% and higher.

Will Frazier, the lead author of Storage Futures: Economic Potential for Diurnal Storage within the U.S. Power Sector, stated that energy storage was extremely competitive economically.

NREL examined 15 energy storage technologies at various stages of commercialization. Ignoring cost, most of these technologies could support the grid with either short or long durations.

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However, rapid declines in lithium-ion battery costs make it the most attractive energy storage technology. Lithium-ion battery pack costs have dropped an astounding 80% over the past decade and are expected to continue to fall, driven largely by electric vehicle demand.

Several phases of the SFS showed energy storage can provide the most value in helping meet peak demand—which is closely connected to PV generation.

More PV generation shifts peak demand to later in the day and shortens it to a few hours, which increases the value of shorter-duration storage. As modeled, the value of storage increases over time as load grows and existing generators retire.

“High-storage power systems can successfully balance load 24/7,” said Jennie Jorgenson, NREL analyst and lead author of Storage Futures Study: Grid Operational Implications of Widespread Storage Deployment.” The modeled energy storage assets don’t run all the time throughout the year but turn on during the 10 highest-demand hours of the day when the power system needs capacity the most.”

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NREL also found significant potential for distributed storage on hundreds of thousands of buildings.

The deployment potential varies by location based on specific rate structures or incentive programs but is generally driven by battery costs and the value of backup power.

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