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Batteries Have Important Role in US DOE Quadrennial Energy Review

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Batteries Have Important Role in US DOE Quadrennial Energy Review

Climate Change, sea-level rise, power blackouts, inadequate electricity transmission capacity, coal-fired power plant retirements, growth of renewable power and the potential for cyber-terrorism attacks. These are among the issues facing the US electric power grid addressed in the US Department of Energy’s Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) released April 21, 2015.

According to the QER, nearly $1 trillion in investment will be needed by 2030 to modernize the nation’s power grid. DOE itself will need Congress to increase its budget by $3.5 billion over the next 10 years to help attract the $1 trillion. 

Energy storage technologies, including batteries, are specifically mentioned among the resources needed for a modernized electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure. 

However, the Republican-controlled Congress and the Obama Administration have sharp disagreements over funding levels for many DOE programs. Where the Administration has proposed significant increases in renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, Republicans want those expenditures minimized to help support increases in fossil and nuclear energy programs. One of the few areas where the Republicans and the Administration agree is the need for more funding for basic energy research.

The QER marks the 10-year “anniversary” of the US government’s attempt to deal with challenges to the aging US power grid that received major public attention after a massive electric power blackout in 2003 that paralyzed the Northeast. Following that catastrophe, Congress in 2005 passed a comprehensive Energy Policy Act that, among other things, gave DOE the authority to designate “National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETC)” and also gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the authority to assert “preemptive” authority over state and local governments if they do not make decisions on transmission projects – including property acquisition – in a timely manner. 

Many officials from state and local governments challenged the new law in court and ultimately prevailed in a series of federal appeals court rulings (California Wilderness Coalition v. U.S. Dept. of Energy No. 08-71074, 9th Cir. Feb. 1, 2011) that DOE and FERC were overstepping their authority by not engaging in proper consultations with state and local authorities.

In the aftermath of another Northeast blackout caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Obama Administration created a process that has resulted in the QER. It’s an effort to bring “all parties” together to collaborate on a new infrastructure program. This time, electric power transmission issues are included in a broader initiative with other transmission issues affecting natural gas and liquid fuels. 

The QER refers to these issues affecting electricity, natural gas and liquid fuels as a “transmission, storage and distribution (TS&D)” infrastructure program.

As to previous attempts to give the federal government “preemptive” authority, DOE officials say that is not in their plans. Instead, the QER process is intended to be a resource of high quality data and a forum for stakeholder collaboration.

The obvious question for the lead-acid battery industry is how energy storage fits into such a large undertaking. Does the DOE’s QER look on energy storage technologies – including batteries – as important tools to help modernize the electric grid to respond to a range of economic, environmental and even national security challenges?

The answer is yes. Batteries are specifically mentioned in the QER’s Chapter 3, “Modernizing the Electric Grid.”

“Storage is unique because it can take energy or power from the grid, add energy or power to the grid, and supply a wide range of grid services on short (sub-second) and long (hours) timescales. Many storage technologies (e.g., batteries, flywheels, and supercapacitors) have fast response rates (seconds to minutes) available over a short time frame.”

Below is a table from the QER report illustrating where electricity storage fits into DOE’s TS&D infrastructure system:

Fuel/Energy Carrier TS&D Infrastructure Element/System
Electricity                       Transmission lines and substations
Distribution lines and distributed generation
Electricity storage
Other electric grid-related infrastructure
Natural Gas Natural gas gathering lines
Transmission pipelines
Natural gas storage facilities
Processing facilities
Distribution pipelines and systems
LNG production/storage facilities (including export terminals)
Coal Rail, truck, barge transport
Export terminals
Crude Oil/Petroleum Products Crude oil pipelines
Rail, truck, barge transport
Oil refineries
Strategic Petroleum Reserve & Regional Petroleum Product Reserves
CO2 pipelines (including EOR)
Biofuels Transport of feedstock and derived products, biorefineries


While the QER report is an impressive document with important data and analyses, its recommendations nonetheless come with a catch. Electric power TS&D modernization must be accomplished through a maze of federal, state and local jurisdictional prerogatives. This is by no means an easy task, especially since there is disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on a wide range of federal budget priorities. 

For example, where the Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposals include significant spending increases for renewable energy and applied science research programs, the Republican-controlled Congress is answering with cuts to renewables and applied research with increased funding for fossil and nuclear energy programs and basic science research. Here is what the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Energy & Water Development Subcommittee said in explaining its cuts to renewables and increases to fossil and nuclear:

“In 2012 the President unveiled an ‘‘all of the above’’ energy strategy designed to take advantage and utilize all sources of American made energy. Since that time, each budget request has proposed increased funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the expense of more reliable energy sources. A true ‘‘all of the above’’ approach has to measure a vision for the future against the practical realities of the present. While investments in renewable energy are important and vital to a coherent national energy policy, they represent a fraction of the energy production in this country.

“Fossil and nuclear sources provide nearly 85 percent of all electricity generation in this nation. An energy policy that divests from these sources plans for an unrealistic future. The Administration’s severe regulations on carbon pollution from existing and new fossil-fueled electric power plants only further the inconsistencies in the budget request’s ‘‘all of the above’’ approach.

“These regulatory actions and the Administration’s subsequent low prioritization of fossil energy sources reveals a broken ‘‘all of the above’’ approach that the Committee has to rebalance each year. The Committee continues its long-standing support for the investment of taxpayer funds across the spectrum of all energy technologies.” 

In fact, one of the few areas where Republicans and Democrats appear to agree is the need for an increase in the budget for the DOE Basic Energy Science program, which includes material science research of particular interest to the lead-acid battery industry. If Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on a new spending program, they likely will enact a continuing resolution to maintain programs at current funding levels.

The ALABC is preparing a plan to begin discussions with DOE on a new material science research project, which could help provide lead-acid battery companies with increased knowledge about material interaction and help lead to further innovations.