Renewable energy use is being held back for lack of a better battery, said the chairman of a House subcommittee Friday after hearing testimony from a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientist and others.
Jud Virden, director of energy and environment research at the Department of Energy’s national lab in Richland, testified before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy, along with industry and DOE leaders.
The nation’s grid requires electricity supply and demand to match, making intermittent sources, such as wind, challenging to incorporate. But PNNL is working on battery systems that would allow energy to be stored until it is needed.
“Several PNNL studies have concluded that for battery storage to be viable it must serve multiple grid applications, such as meeting energy demand minute by minute, hour by hour, or storing renewable energy at night for use the next day,” Virden said.
Among PNNL’s battery success stories is developing a new chemistry that increases the storage capacity of one type of grid-scale batteries by 70 percent. Five companies have licensed the technology and are marketing products.
“Even with the tremendous amount of excitement about the emerging U.S. energy storage market, there is still plenty of need for R&D innovations that increase performance, reduce lifecycle costs and improve the safety of the next generation of battery-storage technologies,” Virden said.
Lithium batteries last five to seven years, but grid storage batteries will need to last 15 to 20 years, he said.
Utilities would like batteries that deliver high power, taking in the electricity generated by sudden gusts at a wind farm, and also high energy, slowly taking on the same amount of energy over a longer period of time.
“This is hard to do,” Virden said. “No one battery delivers both high power and high energy, at least not very well or for very long.”
Work also needs to be done to bring down the costs of the battery systems.
To move grid batteries into broader use may require a better understanding of the science within the batteries. Innovations that can be produced one time on the laboratory bench often prove challenging to scale up for actual use, he said.
Better understanding the basic processes that influence battery operations, performance, limitations and failures could help with that transition, he said.
It’s not research that can be expected to be done privately, particularly in a U.S. market fragmented among 3,000 utilities, he and other panelists agreed. Capital costs are high and the payback would come only long term.
The goal of energy storage is to keep prices down for consumers, Virden told subcommittee Chairman Randy Weber, R-Texas. “It will have a huge impact on the resiliency and reliability and robustness of the grid,” he said.