By Johnny Yin, MBA ’24
This article was written in response to a seminar given by Adrienne Lalle, Senior Director of Energy Storage at Cypress Creek Renewables, in an EDGE Seminar at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Fall 2023. This article voices one student’s perspective and does not necessarily represent the views of either Duke University or the seminar speaker.
As our recent EDGE Seminar class discussed with Adrienne Lalle, the Senior Director of Energy Storage Strategy and Development at Cypress Creek Renewables, energy storage isn’t a magic wand for the clean energy transition. It’s an essential tool that comes with inherent energy losses and complexities. Stakeholders—from developers to policymakers to environmental conservationists—have their own priorities, and a one-size-fits-all approach won’t suffice.
Let’s delve into some real-life cases to illustrate this balancing act.
Massachusetts: The Winter Windfall (and Winter Woes)
Massachusetts is a prime example of the intricate dance between the objectives of delivering affordable, reliable, and clean energy. The state’s ambitious goals are met with geographical constraints and maxed-out infrastructure. Their answer? A colossal 5.6 GW offshore wind target by 2027. But there’s a twist: Massachusetts has a summer peaking demand, soon flipping to winter peaking due to electric heating. This necessitates a staggering 70 GW of renewables by 2050; even a 12-hour storage requirement comes with a multi-billion dollar price tag.
For project developers like Cypress Creek Renewables, capital costs might be the immediate concern. But for Massachusetts policymakers, winter reliability is paramount when the wind isn’t constantly blowing, and the sun barely peeks through. They might be willing to spend more for longer-duration storage, even if it’s less cost-effective in the short term. And for environmental stakeholders, minimizing the overall energy footprint, including storage losses, remains crucial.
Texas: Renewables and the Gas Roller Coaster
Texas offers a contrasting scenario. The Lone Star State boasts some of the most abundant renewable resources in the U.S., but its energy grid is notoriously independent, making it an island in the national network. This isolation has led to blackouts; the February 2021 winter storm was a stark reminder.
Here, affordability and reliability become intertwined. Developers might prioritize shorter-duration, battery-based storage to capture excess renewable energy during peak production times and release it during peak demand. This can shave costs compared to longer-duration solutions like pumped hydro, but it might leave Texans vulnerable during extended outages when stored energy runs out.
The environment, however, gets squeezed into this equation. While improving, batteries still have significant material footprints and potential for pollution if not disposed of responsibly. So, while shorter-duration storage might be more affordable and reliable in the short term, its environmental impact needs careful consideration, especially for a state as reliant on fossil fuels as Texas.
California: Storage as a Wildfire Warrior
California’s clean energy story is one of ambition and adaptation. The state has aggressively pursued renewables, but its solar dominance has led to challenges with midday overproduction and evening shortfalls. Additionally, its wildfire woes have highlighted the need for resilient energy infrastructure.
This is where storage becomes a multi-pronged weapon. Developers are exploring diverse solutions like community solar with microgrids and behind-the-meter batteries, offering Californians more control over their energy use and increasing grid reliability. Additionally, long-duration storage like compressed air or molten salt is gaining traction. These can store excess solar energy during the day and release it during peak evening hours, all while providing backup power during potential wildfire-induced outages.
Here, affordability might take a backseat. The upfront costs of these long-duration solutions are high. Still, the long-term benefits—increased grid resilience, reduced reliance on fossil fuels, and community empowerment—might outweigh the immediate financial burden.
The Nuance of Optimization: A Collaborative Approach
These real-life cases illustrate the impossibility of a singular energy storage solution for affordable, reliable, and clean energy. Each situation demands a tailored approach that acknowledges each stakeholder’s priorities. Developers must be transparent about the energy losses and environmental impact of their proposed solutions. Policymakers must create frameworks that incentivize storage based on regional needs, not just blanket affordability. And researchers need to continue innovating in cost-effective, long-duration, and environmentally sustainable storage technologies.
Ultimately, the clean energy transition is a marathon, not a sprint. We need a diverse portfolio of storage solutions, not a silver bullet. By embracing this nuanced approach, fostering collaboration, and prioritizing transparency, we can ensure that energy storage indeed plays its critical role in powering a clean, reliable, and, yes, affordable future, one where the needs of the environment, the grid, and the people are in harmony.
- Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan 2021: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/massachusetts-clean-energy-and-climate-plan-for-2025-and-2030
- Lazard Levelized Cost of Storage Analysis 2022: https://www.lazard.com/research-insights/2023-levelized-cost-of-energyplus/
- ISO New England: Winter 2022 Natural Gas Price Woes: https://www.iso-ne.com/static-assets/documents/2022/05/2022-winter-quarterly-markets-report.pdf
- Texas Tribune: February 2021 Texas Blackouts: https://www.americanoversight.org/investigation/the-february-2021-texas-power-outage
- Energy Storage Association: Texas Case Study: https://www.txssa.org/
- California Public Utilities Commission: Energy Storage Roadmap: https://www.cpuc.ca.gov/industries-and-topics/electrical-energy/energy-storage
- Los Angeles Times: California Community Microgrids: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/microgrids-could-help-california-improve-grid-resilience-face-wildfire-threat