The Energy Department is announcing a $325 million investment in new types of batteries that can help turn solar and wind power into 24-hour power, it said Friday morning.
The funds will be distributed to 15 projects in 17 states and the Red Lake Nation, a Native American tribe based in Minnesota.
Batteries are increasingly used to store excess renewable energy so that it can be used later, during times when there is no sunlight or wind. The department says the projects will protect more communities from blackouts and make energy more reliable and affordable.
“All over the U.S. there are problems with intermittent renewable energy … every day the sun goes down and you have to be able to take the energy you produced during the day and use it at night,” said Christopher Rahn, professor of mechanical engineering . at Pennsylvania State University.
The new funding is for “long-term” storage, meaning options that can last longer than the four hours typical of lithium-ion batteries.
Storage that can keep pumping out energy from sundown to sunup, or for several cloudy days at a time, is the hot work of thousands of engineers around the world right now because it's a serious way to tackle climate change, allowing natural gas or coal-fired power plants to shut down.
“Long-term battery storage is like a rainy-day savings account for energy storage,” said Jodie Lutkenhaus, a professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University.
“As long as these batteries use Earth-abundant materials that are readily available, I don't see any downside,” Lutkenhaus said, referring to minerals that must be mined, including lithium.
“Areas where solar and wind are developing rapidly are often the most interesting for long-term storage. In the US, we're seeing a lot of interest in this technology coming from places like California, New York and Hawaii,” said Amanda Smith, senior scientist at Project Drawdown, a group that publicizes actions that can be taken to combat of climate disruption. which has already touched large areas of the planet.
The projects have a range of batteries that provide up to 100 hours of power.
Here are some of those being funded, through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021:
A project led by Xcel Energy in partnership with long-term battery maker Form Energy will develop two 100-megawatt battery systems on the site of shuttered coal plants in Becker, Minnesota, and Pueblo, Colorado. There are new incentives for businesses that install clean energy facilities on existing energy facilities.
A project at California Valley Children's Hospital in Madera, an underserved community, will install a battery system to add reliability to the acute care medical center facing potential power outages from fires, floods and heat waves. This is run by the California Energy Commission in partnership with Faraday Microgrids.
The Second Life Smart Systems initiative with locations in Georgia, California, South Carolina and Louisiana will use old but still powerful electric vehicle batteries for backup power for senior centers, affordable housing complexes and EV chargers.
Another project led by Rejoule, a battery diagnostics company, will similarly use retired EV batteries in three locations, Petaluma, California. Santa Fe, New Mexico and a worker training center in the Red Lake Nation, not far from the Canadian border.
Energy Undersecretary for Infrastructure David Crane said the announced projects will prove the technologies work at scale, help utilities plan for long-term storage and begin to drive down costs.
“A cheap battery would remove the biggest barrier to the transition of renewable energy,” said Elisabeth Moyer, an associate professor of atmospheric science at the University of Chicago, noting that availability of materials is also an issue and the technology ultimately creates waste.
“If we can get the cost down, then you're going to start seeing a lot more battery installations across the grid,” Rahn said.
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