DOE looks to unlock energy storage advances

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Energy Department hopes to better leverage department-wide expertise to spur advances in energy storage, drive them into the market and ensure U.S. industry reaps the benefits.

Why it matters: Storage improvements are important for bringing high levels of renewables onto power grids and improving the performance and cost-competitiveness of electric vehicles, among other benefits.

Driving the news: Today, DOE is rolling out the "Energy Storage Grand Challenge."

DOE hopes to "create and sustain global leadership in energy storage utilization and exports, with a secure domestic manufacturing supply chain that does not depend on foreign sources of critical materials, by 2030," a summary states.

  • Senior officials tell Axios the effort will look at a range of technologies — new and improved battery chemistries, advancements in pumped hydro storage, thermal storage with molten salt, hydrogen and more.
  • The program is designed to coordinate the work of DOE's network of national labs and separate offices of science, electricity, energy efficiency and renewables and others.
  • Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette was slated to talk about it in remarks at the CES technology show in Las Vegas today. But DOE spokeswoman Kelly Love said that due to the "evolving situation with Iran," he'll instead be in Washington, D.C. as part of his National Security Council role.

It has five big goals over the next decade, per the summary:

  • Technology development with "ambitious, achievable" performance goals.
  • Technology transfer to speed up the process of moving from research to system design to use in the private sector.
  • "Policy and valuation" to enable the "most effective value proposition and use cases for storage technologies."
  • Bolstering the U.S. manufacturing and supply chain for storage technologies.
  • Workforce training to help U.S. workers "meet the needs of the 21st century electric grid and energy storage value chain."

The other side: DOE and the Trump administration have also more broadly sought to bolster federal support for incumbent fossil fuel technologies, including coal-fired power, that compete with renewables and electric vehicles.

  • The White House has spent years seeking to slash funding for clean energy technologies, while Congress hasn't gone along.
  • In fact, the administration has tried to eliminate funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency, one of the many offices involved with DOE's Research and Technology Investment Committee that's managing the new storage effort.

By the numbers: It's not clear how much will be spent specifically on the new program.

But Love said DOE's fiscal year 2020 spending on storage initiatives overall should be consistent with the average of roughly $400 million annually over the last three fiscal years. She declined to speculate on funding in subsequent years.

What's next: DOE is planning a "coordinated suite of research and development funding opportunities, prizes, partnerships, and other programs," per the announcement.

  • The first step will be a "request for information" to get outside feedback on the plans. The department is also planning workshops with to learn more about deployment barriers and "shape the work" that will help bring technologies to market.

Go deeper: The U.S. has the largest amount of new energy storage deployments ever

Editor's note: This story was updated with further information on DOE storage funding and to note that Brouillette is no longer speaking at the CES show in Las Vegas.

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