We already know that clean energy solutions, including wind and solar, are key to eliminating the carbon pollution that causes climate change. While these newer energy sources provide huge benefits in the form of a promising emerging industry and a cleaner environment for birds and people, they also present a unique set of challenges for our outdated energy infrastructure.
As renewables make up a larger share of our electricity, handling daily fluctuations in demand for electricity becomes more difficult. Traditionally, power systems rely on ‘peaker plants’ to meet greatest demand, which command a higher price from consumers. Newer, renewable sources cannot be turned on and off at will, so developing better systems for capturing energy when it’s generated and deploying it as needed will provide electricity more efficiently and reliably, and at a lower cost for consumers. This would allow for plenty of energy from clean, renewable sources that protect our environment and birds to be available regardless of the weather. Power generated by solar panels could be stored so it can be used even when it’s cloudy. Wind-generated energy could be banked to be used even on calm days.
We know the technology exists to make these systems a reality. What is needed is robust investment. Right now, a slate of bipartisan bills proposed in Congress could go a long way to support energy storage research and development. For instance, the Better Energy Storage Technology (BEST) Act of 2019 would fund five years of research and development of energy storage technology, including setting cost goals for storage. Another bill, the Promoting Grid Storage Act, focuses on developing the systems for deploying that energy into homes and businesses.
There have already been some successful examples of energy storage improving our grid—and we need to build on those. Several states have policies and regulations focused on energy storage, and markets are moving to keep up. As of 2016, the U.S. had approximately 22 gigawatts of utility-scale storage installed, equivalent to about 2 percent of the total electricity that the US generates. This is a start, but Congressional action to expand research and development is necessary before we can install energy storage systems across the country.
There is a long history of federal investment catalyzing breakthroughs that improve technology and lower costs. Examples include the 2011 SunShot Initiative, which ensured consumers had access to clean solar energy at a price comparable to traditional sources and was completed three years ahead of schedule. These kinds of achievements are exactly what we need to move to more affordable, reliable clean energy.
As summer comes to an end and Congress gets back to work, they should prioritize energy storage legislation to help build the grid and energy systems of the future. It is imperative for us, and our birds.
Read more about Audubon’s work on climate mitigation and adaptation.