Energy Storage Means Energy Security—but Trump’s Budget Gives It the Axe

, director of gov't affairs, Climate & Energy | March 14, 2018, 2:05 pm EST
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On Thursday, Rick Perry—the Department of Energy Secretary—is scheduled to testify on the President’s fiscal year 2019 budget request in front of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. No doubt the secretary will give a charming, yet uncomfortable defense of the budget, just like last year; lots of winking and silent pointing back to the White House, with some convenient ignorance thrown in for good measure.

As a Texan, it pains me to see my former governor, a man who ran the state pragmatically and competently for 14 years, squirm and strain to communicate why it’s good for our country to cut the national labs and reduce our commitment to federally funded scientific and technological innovation.

For the second year in a row the president’s budget guts our nation’s funding for clean energy, energy efficiency, grid modernization, and energy R&D. Alarmingly, the president’s budget calls for a 74% cut to our nation’s energy storage program in the office of electricity.

I say “alarmingly” because it’s a national security issue. This program is severely underfunded at $31 million a year. At scale, the ability to store energy for when we need it means energy security. It means no more fuel supply lines for our military. It means no more blackouts from extreme weather. And it means never having to be dependent on other countries for energy resources. It’s important.

An energy recovery system. Photo: Wikimedia

Energy storage technologies were invented and developed right here in the United States, but now China is threatening to dominate the global market and our administration is proposing that we scale back our nominal federal R&D efforts on energy storage. Appropriators must reject the administration’s misguided proposal, and substantially increase federal support for energy storage research, development, and demonstration.

Why energy storage is important

Energy storage is energy security. Energy is the engine of a nation’s self-determination, and uninterrupted access to energy is fundamental to any nation’s security (and economy). The US is no different, but in this country we possess the technological ability to achieve energy independence through the way we generate, transmit, and consume energy.

How can energy storage make America more secure and prosperous?

  • Energy storage technologies help make the grid more secure, by allowing us to store and dispatch electricity more efficiently and with more control.
  • It also allows us to increase access to renewable energy resources like wind and solar in a way that also improves grid reliability.
  • It can provide energy security to critical facilities like hospitals, police departments and fire stations in the face of blackouts and extreme weather.
  • Mobile applications for energy storage in electric vehicles have the potential to change our entire transportation economy and permanently end our dependence on foreign oil.
  • The military needs it to set up command centers, bases, and other infrastructure in the middle of nowhere. They also need it to eliminate interruptions to their fuel supply and ensure mission success.
  • Energy storage can replace coal or gas plants in low income and minority communities disproportionately affected by air pollution and other public health risks.
  • It also allows rural and islanded communities to be energy independent instead of relying on diesel generators.
  • Energy storage also reduces vulnerability to cyber-attacks by allowing us to put critical systems on independent power sources.

An energy storage project. Photo: Wikimedia

Why does the federal government need to invest in energy storage RD&D?

The federal government must invest in R&D because the private sector simply isn’t doing so. Measures of US private sector energy RD&D show a significant investment gap compared to other sectors, like pharmaceuticals, information technology, and semiconductors.

Federal investments in energy storage RD&D are also lagging significantly, accounting for only 4.5% of DOE clean energy RD&D spending. Only a small percentage of ARPA-E’s budget goes to energy storage, and funding for the dedicated energy storage programs within DOE is extremely insufficient, at just over $50 million a year.

Dept. or Lab Program FY17 Enacted FY18 Request FY18 House FY18 Senate FY19 Request
ARPA-E ARPA-E, Total $305 -100% -100% +8% -100%
Since 2009, ARPA-E has invested ~$125 million in stationary storage projects.
ANL Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) $25 -100% -100% 0% 0%
OE Energy Storage Program $31 -74% 0% +20% -74%
EERE The solar program recently announced an $18 million solicitation on solar and storage.

 

The Department of Defense (DOD), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) all have programs that include some energy storage R&D, but are funded at even lower levels.

Last fall China published a national plan on the development of the storage industry. Chinese companies already control global markets for key battery components, and China is set to be a global superpower in storage technologies in the 2020s. The country that dominates energy storage will own energy security, and I for one, am not interested in ceding that to China.

So when Secretary Perry inevitably responds to a tough budget question with some sort of charming iteration of, “I’ve been in government long enough to know that budgets are often good doorstops” (something he’s said several times at these hearings), Congress should correct him by highlighting how the president’s budgets are an extension of values and priorities. And it’s clear that when it comes to energy security, the administration’s budget misses a critical opportunity with energy storage.

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