The Fed must intervene or there will be nowhere for renewable energy to go, according to a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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The construction of wind and solar farms is an important part of building a new green grid, but a quiet night stops their power generation. It is equally important to explore and create clean energy storage — and doing so at scale requires federal intervention as soon as possible, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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“The Future of Energy Storage” is part of a series focusing on America’s energy transition and is especially relevant given the momentum the solar and wind industries are currently enjoying. Too much renewable energy sounds like a good problem, but if it can’t be relied upon as the main or only source of electricity for a city or region, they’ll feel the need to hedge their bets with a coal-fired power plant or something like that.

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The solution lies mainly in batteries: store excess energy when the sun is shining and the wind is strong, and use it at other times. Hardly a revelation, but the growing reliance on what the study calls “variable renewable energy” means that the battery capacity we have is not enough. We will need to increase it by orders of magnitude and across the country (and eventually, of course, around the world – but not all countries are equally ready for this shift).

But the problem is this: wind and solar power plants bring in money, but storage … does not. Sure, they can pay off in the long run, but it’s not the easy money that solar farms have become. The most efficient and environmentally friendly energy storage options, such as hydroelectric storage, are incredibly expensive and limited in the places they can be built. While the most accessible technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries, are widely available, they are not large enough or organized enough to complement the grid.

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This is where the Department of Energy should step in, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The federal government has funds both to subsidize the use of existing storage options and to fund intensive research into new and promising ones. The report notes that the hydrogen energy storage system could be a game changer, but it’s not going to fund itself. As with other critical infrastructure, it must be paid for upfront by the federal authorities and paid off over time.

But it’s not just about writing checks. The Energy Department will need to assess the feasibility of actions such as repurposing old infrastructure such as decommissioned power plants, reusing their connections to the grid and the communities that were built around them. If coal-fired power plants weren’t just shut down, but turned into hydrogen electrolysis centers, jobs might remain, but emissions would disappear.

And then there is the question of the cost of the energy itself. The report warns that even with proper storage, the cost of energy will fluctuate well beyond the norms we have set today with our steady (but dirty) fuel-based energy sources. Perhaps peak power today costs twice as much as off-peak power, but ten years from now the gap could be much larger. On the one hand, the minimum cost will be almost zero, but the peak power can be much more expensive.

The electricity market will change a lot and consumers shouldn’t have to wonder if running a dishwasher will cost them pennies or dollars. Instead, intelligent modeling of these cost and supply issues should be used to abstract away volatility and ensure both consistency for consumers and payback for power producers.

The US is at the right stage for the feds to step in, and if they do, other countries will be looking forward to making a similar leap. India, for a number of reasons, is also facing a growing energy and emissions crisis, the report notes, and the US could serve as a useful testing ground for technologies that could serve its larger population just as well.

You can read the full report or the summary, both are very accessible, on the report page here.


Credit: techcrunch.com /

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