As the energy storage sector took center-stage within the Energy Transition last year, one of the areas of most intense focus was long duration energy storage (LDES). So called because of its potential to store energy for over four hours (and, potentially, much longer), LDES is touted as critical to ensuring the viability of the Energy Transition: without it, intermittent sources of renewable power such as wind and solar will be hard pressed to replicate the dependability of incumbent fossil fuel sources.
As is often the case in advancements of game-changing technologies, the U.S. government took the lead in mainstreaming awareness of the need for successful LDES technologies. In July, the U.S. Department of Energy launched an “Energy Earthshots” initiative to reduce the costs of LDES by 90% by 2030, citing the technology as critical to achieving the Biden Administration’s goal of 100% renewable power by 2035. On Wall Street, investors quickly took notice. Many companies in the LDES sector announced public market listings or large private capital rounds during a frenzied 2021 — including Ambri, Eos, Energy Vault, EnerVue, ESS, Form Energy, Malta and others. In November, the industry took the step to formally organize its collective adoption push, launching the Long Duration Energy Storage Council, a consortium of 24 sector LDES providers as well as large potential customers such as BP, Siemens and Rio Tinto. The sector is now setting ambitious targets for intensified market penetration over the coming decade, with the intention of rapidly overcoming its remaining technical, policy, regulatory and market hurdles.
Meanwhile, even as high-concept technologies command the bulk of the sector’s headlines, the reality is that a number of long duration players have made a great deal of progress on delivering on the sector’s potential in 2021. Applying technologies which are accessible today, companies such as LDES Council members involved in pumped storage as well as others based on clean-burning natural gas are delivering solutions that are reliable, dependable and competitive with fossil fuels.
Houston-based Enchanted Rock emerged as one of the brightest spots during the deep freeze which paralyzed the Texas power grid in February 2021. Utilizing natural gas-fired generators — which have typically been utilizing especially dirty diesel fuels — the company was able to cover over 97% of the outage hours of its approximately 200 customers in Texas. One customer, Texas grocery chain HEB, reported that one of its stores maintained continuous power for over 100 hours, preventing the spoilage of its entire food inventory. In line with the “circular economy” trend informing corporate ESG goals, the company is now also marketing an “ultra-low carbon” solution fired by renewable natural gas, which is sourced from decomposing organic waste. Looking forward, it is not hard to envisage such solutions potentially also being powered by hydrogen.
Such companies demonstrate the viability and diversity of the long duration sector, acting as a bridge and a proving ground for the potential for LDES to actualize the transition to clean energy. In the event that some investors (and policymakers) waver on LDES in the medium term, stakeholders would be well placed to note the progress being made by less complex technologies which are providing immediate solutions for the implementation of clean energy and decarbonization programs.
While LDES technologies have great potential, there are significant hurdles that need to be recognized. These hurdles generally fit within the scope policy, regulatory and power market rules (as well demonstrating the ability to scale production quickly enough to facilitate procurement). Currently, in many U.S. markets, LDES provision over a certain duration typically does not result in a complementary revenue increase for providing that increased duration. Many LDES companies with public listings are significantly down in share price to begin 2022, which may be a function of momentary market turbulence affecting the broader technology sector. Regardless, solving policy, regulatory and power market issues will be critical to maintaining stakeholder confidence. Policymakers, regulators and market operators need to take notice and actively create the environment for LDES to achieve its potential to catalyze the transition to clean energy.