Following the release of our study on the role of storage in the path to net zero, we hosted several virtual roundtable discussions with industry players across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific to share our findings, get their perspectives and ideate how to accelerate momentum around storage.

Some of what we heard surprised us. Much of what we heard excited us. But across all discussions was consensus that while storage holds great potential, much work is still needed to realize its ambitions in the marketplace.

Some key takeaways from our discussions:

The potential for storage is clear; the economics are still being explored. This significant finding of our study was reinforced by roundtable participants, many of whom are still in the research or pilot stages of their storage journey. The number of participants placing big bets on storage varied by geography, with North America leading the charge. More than 2,100 MWh of new energy storage systems were brought online in the fourth quarter of 2020 in North America, an increase of 182% from the previous quarter and setting a new record. And this growth is expected to continue. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) is anticipating 1,493 MW of battery energy storage systems to come online between June and September and provide critical reserves during net peak hours with the hope of avoiding 2020’s heatwave-induced rolling black outs.

A low-cost solar and storage strategy will drive down system costs. Our study found that a low-cost solar and storage strategy can reduce system costs by up to 40% over other scenarios modeled. A majority of roundtable participants agreed. Batteries can alleviate the daily variability of renewables, reduce the need for curtailment and minimize generation overbuild. However, longer duration storage options will be needed to manage seasonal variations.

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Renewables players have an important and clear role to play in supporting system transformation. Improving wind and solar production forecasting was deemed to be the most critical of actions renewables players can take to support system transformation. This is critical to better understand the role and need for storage to complement renewables, improving reliability and optimizing costs. It further empowers renewables to play the role of service provider to the reserve, response and even restore markets.

Rules and infrastructure to allow batteries to participate in all markets is the most important change needed to accelerate growth. There was a surprising degree of alignment on the market changes needed to support battery growth across geographies, with rules and infrastructure targeting participation consistently coming out top. Moving away from the view of storage as simply a last resort opens up new roles and accessible value pools and empowers market participants to take full advantage of the versatility of batteries. Continued efforts are needed to incentivize participation—and where it matters most. Location will be critical.

Digital will be a critical backbone to optimizing at the asset, portfolio and system levels. The path to net zero will invariably drive increased system complexity. Digital investments will be needed across the board to support complex modeling and continued optimization to balance the system and generate returns for market participants.

So, what is the outlook for storage?

With costs continuing to decline faster than forecasted, storage is set to have a definite place in the future energy system. However, regulators, system operators, utilities and asset owners must continue to work together to tackle key challenges from permitting to market participation, share lessons learned and cement just how big a role storage will be allowed to play. All eyes are on California this summer as we really put storage to the test.

Caroline Narich

Managing Director and North America Energy Transition Services Lead

Dr. Daniel Kammen

Professor – Energy & Resources Group, Goldman School & Nuclear Energy, University of California Berkeley

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