What a Year! 10 Stories That Propelled Energy Storage in 2019

More batteries installed. More markets opening up. And grid storage making itself indispensable in unanticipated ways.

For too long, the rhetoric around what storage can do for the grid vastly outweighed the actual doing. This year, the industry closed that gap more than ever before.

Exceedingly few batteries actually live up to the vision of “storing clean power for when the sun isn’t shining.” Batteries perform miniscule adjustments to grid frequency, or lower businesses’ electricity consumption during a peak hour, or sit around waiting to provide clean backup power, but try messaging that to voters.

This year, finally, big renewables projects with batteries attached closed deals and even entered operations. A few states that wanted to incubate storage industries of their own proved that sharp policy really can create new markets in relatively short periods of time.

Big regulated utilities with no prior interest in batteries decided they’d like to own them in copious amounts. All the headlines made it possible to forget that the scientific pioneers of lithium-ion batteries won the Nobel freakin’ Prize this fall.

That said, the U.S. storage market will triple next year and double again the year after that. All this excitement is still just a little snack before the main course. But, like some well-marinated olives or a tin of anchovies, little snacks can pack a lot of flavor.

Here are the tastiest stories that emerged in 2019, in no particular order.

Massive utility procurements

California leads the nation in putting batteries to work for a decarbonizing grid. But try convincing any other state with an argument that starts with “Well, California says…”

Storage advocates no longer need to, because utilities in numerous states are acquiring unprecedented portfolios of grid batteries.

The year started with AES completing the largest solar-plus-storage facility in the world for the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. It serves clean power at night more cheaply than using incumbent fossil fuels. Also that month, the Hawaiian Electrical Company awarded contracts for 1,048 megawatt-hours of storage across three islands, pushing prices even lower. The utility asked for more later in the year.

In February, Arizona Public Service unveiled plans to pair just about all its solar farms with 850 megawatts of storage in the next five years. That’s in a state that has not matched California in passing climate-oriented policies; Arizona’s dry, sunny terrain makes solar and batteries cheaper than gas plants, plain and simple.

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