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With Texas renewable power generation growing, energy secretary says storage is next challenge

San Antonio Express News logo San Antonio Express News 5/18/2022 By Diego Mendoza-Moyers, Staff writer

Expanding America’s ability to store energy is the key to making renewable power available any time — even when there’s no wind or sun — U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm told the Clean Power 2022 conference Wednesday in downtown San Antonio.

“Storage is a huge priority because that’s what is going to make renewable power dispatchable,” she said. “If we can get the cost right, and if we can get the (storage) duration up, there’s this potential to turn these variable renewables into 24/7 baseload.”

Increasing storage capacity could, for example, allow operators to store solar energy produced midday in batteries and send that power to the grid when demand is highest, typically in the evening.

To make that a reality, the Department of Energy’s $1 billion “earthshot” initiative is aiming to cut the cost of long-duration storage of greater than 10 hours by 90 percent this decade. Duration refers to the amount of time it takes for a fully-charged storage system to discharge that power to the grid. Most lithium storage batteries today have a duration of up to four hours.

Reducing the cost of long-duration storage technology such as hydrogen would make it “the most cost effective choice for electricity consumers,” Granholm said. The Biden administration is directing more $3 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to manufacture more energy storage batteries in the U.S., she said.

With solar and wind generation growing rapidly in Texas, energy storage is being explore in San Antonio and elsewhere. The amount of power generated from solar panels jumped 82 percent in April from the same month last year, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Wind generation grew 32 percent last month from a year earlier.

In a San Antonio pilot project, CPS Energy is preparing to sign a contract for a 50 megawatt battery storage system and another to purchase 900 megawatts of solar power. CPS’ interim CEO has called the project a “sizable pilot.”

In March, the city-owned utility signed a deal with Bill Gates-backed startup Quidnet Energy on a long-duration, underground pumped hydro storage system. The project, which can store one megawatt of power, is part of a 15-year partnership that will allow CPS to test Quidnet’s technology. The company pumps water underground using excess electricity then releases the water at a high pressure to spin a turbine when CPS needs power.

“Storage is essential to help move renewables forward,” Benny Ethridge, CPS’ vice president in charge of power generation, said after the utility’s board meeting last month. “I think we need longer duration storage to really move the needle.”

More renewable energy projects and battery systems means more transmission wires also will be needed to transport that power.

Throughout this week’s Clean Power conference, energy executives said that more than technology innovation the industry need a quicker permitting process for transmission projects. In Texas, solar power generated in the western expanses of the state at times doesn’t reach Texas metros because the transmission lines ferrying power across the state get clogged.

But transmission projects are costly. They also require buy-in from landowners and approval from numerous local and federal agencies.

“If we could just get the transmission piece right, there’s hundreds and hundreds of gigawatts of clean power out there that could be connected tomorrow,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, who has pushed to get a transmission line built to deliver power from New Mexico to Arizona. “The faster we grow transmission ... the faster we’re going to make this entire energy transition.”

Building transmission lines has become so difficult that Heinrich suggested Biden appoint someone who’s dedicated to getting them built. Last year, 386 miles of transmission lines were built in the U.S., a sharp decline from the last decade, when the U.S. installed more than 1,800 miles of transmission lines on average each year, according to a market report from the American Clean Power Association.

“It’s such a limiting factor for how fast we can deploy (renewables) and how fast we can grows jobs that I think it would be appropriate for their to be a White House czar, or whatever label you want to put, for transmission infrastructure,” Heinrich said. “When you do a transmission line, it’s not easy. You have to make very hard decisions about siting. But not siting should not be an alternative.”

Heinrich spoke live after Granholm and others made remarks in a recorded conversation. About 7,000 people attended the conference organized this week by the American Clean Power Association at the convention center.


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