Now here is something that might actually help the grid.
A surge of new battery projects is expected to come online on Texas and California’s power grids, as developers seek to store the excess electricity produced by those state’s sprawling wind and solar farms.
The Department of Energy estimates 21 gigawatts of batteries will be hooked into U.S. power grids before 2026, more than two and half times what is currently in operation. In Texas they are expecting 7.9 gigawatts of batteries to be built.
The boom in battery development comes as weather dependent wind and solar energy become an increasingly large part of the U.S. power grid, requiring a power source to step in quickly when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
Since the rise of renewables over the past decade, natural gas turbines have shouldered a lot of that load. But as lithium ion battery prices have come down in recent years – at the same time natural gas prices have increased – power utilities are increasingly looking to that technology to fill the gaps.
“What you’re seeing here is a technology starting to reach its inflection point,” said Ryan Katofsy, managing director at the trade group Advanced Energy Economy. “Costs are down, performance is improved. There’s more awareness of the qualities (batteries) provide.”
The boom coincides with increasing concern around the reliability of the U.S. power grid amid changing weather patterns linked to climate change. Texas suffered a days long blackout in 2021 after a historic winter storm caused power plants and natural gas wells to freeze up. Batteries could theoretically help fill the gap when power plants go down, said Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas.
But driving investor interest is a Texas power market where wind energy in the panhandle and West Texas frequently exceeds the capacity of transmission lines running east to the state’s population centers, he said. If a power company can store electricity in off peak hours and then deploy it when power demand is at its highest, there is profit to be made.
“You get these opportunities for big swings in price from low to high,” Webber said. “We’re going to build batteries all over, quite frankly.”
And many more projects could be coming, with 79 gigawatts worth of projects listed as pending by the grid operator’s Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Many of those projects have yet to secure financing or other milestones but they represent one third of all the generation in development on ERCOT’s grid right now.
You can thank the Inflation Reduction Act, also known as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, for that last item. There are still other issues to be solved but this is a good starting point. I don’t expect much from the Legislature, but as long as they stay out of the way it ought to be all right.