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Research Highlights

Sprenkle Discusses PNNL Energy Storage Research with U.S. Senate

Hearing examines status of energy storage research, provides understanding of future needs

December 2017
Vincent Sprenkle

Last year, 160,000 electric vehicles were sold across the United States. By the end of 2017, grid-scale battery solutions for the stationary energy storage market are projected to reach 395 megawatts.

While these numbers seem impressive—and indeed they represent tremendous market growth during the past decade—transportation and grid-scale storage markets are still considered early stage.

That's because those 160,000 electric vehicles constitute just roughly 1 percent of the 17 million vehicles purchased by American consumers in 2016. And those 395 megawatts in grid-scale battery solutions will account for less than 0.1 percent of the nation’s generation capacity.

On October 3, Vincent Sprenkle, leader of energy storage research and development at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on the federal role in making significant scientific advancements that will bolster growth in the energy storage markets.

Focusing on Grid-Scale Battery Research

Primarily sponsored by DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and the Office of Science, Sprenkle summarized PNNL’s grid-scale R&D work.

  • Cost-Competitive Technologies. PNNL's pioneering work in vanadium redox flow batteries overcame several barriers to flow battery commercialization, including cost competitiveness. Eight companies have licensed variations of this technology, including UniEnergy Technologies, which currently has 18.5 megawatt hours of commercial systems worldwide, and another 365 megawatt hours under contract or award.
  • Validated Safety and Reliability. PNNL researchers are evaluating the impact of grid services on battery performance and studying how changes in materials and interfaces impact expected lifetime and safety. In addition, PNNL and Sandia National Laboratories are leading an Energy Storage Safety Working Group with industry stakeholders to facilitate development and deployment of codes, standards, and regulations affecting energy storage system safety.
  • Standardization of Energy Storage Valuation. PNNL is partnering with public service commissions across the Unites States to provide technical information to accurately evaluate the net benefits of energy storage. PNNL is also working with Washington and Oregon utility commissions to develop planning tools that capture the benefits of storage and provide integrated planning resources that accurately evaluate storage benefits.
  • Industrial Acceptance. As part of Washington State’s Clean Energy Fund, PNNL is performing technical and economic use case analyses and performance monitoring with five regional utilities that are deploying energy storage technologies. This effort is forming the framework for analysis tools to be used by utilities and regulators to capture the monetized benefits and avoided costs of deploying energy storage.

Partnerships for Electric Vehicle Battery Research

According to Sprenkle, deploying electric vehicles with lighter, less-expensive batteries requires multi-disciplinary research. Through funding from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Battery 500 Consortium focuses on doubling the energy storage of existing battery materials while also producing a high-performance battery that is reliable, safe, less expensive, and can be easily adopted by automotive manufacturers. Meanwhile, DOE’s Office of Science supports the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, which leads foundational research to develop the next generation of game-changing battery technologies.

The Future of Energy Storage Research

Sprenkle informed the Senate that maintaining a U.S. leadership position for the next generation of energy storage technologies requires a multi-pronged effort.

  • Science and Technology Investments. Investments in fundamental science and applied research are necessary to improve the tools and capabilities available to develop the next generation of safe, low-cost, high-performance energy storage technologies.
  • Advanced Manufacturing/Prototyping. To accelerate the commercialization of breakthrough technologies, new manufacturing R&D is required to quickly move ideas from innovation to U.S. industry.
  • Technology Demonstrations. Given the vast difference between expected lifetimes for grid storage (20 – 30 years) and transportation (5 – 7 years), additional technology demonstrations will be needed across the country to build confidence in the performance, lifetime, safety, and benefit of multiple low-cost grid applications.
  • Analysis and Control Systems. As the nation moves towards a more decentralized electricity infrastructure, the impact of electric vehicles and grid storage as part of the distributed energy resources suite must be analyzed and optimized to maintain desired reliability.

A video and copies of the written testimonies are available on the hearing website.

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