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Lab technologies will meet real-world experience at ESA’s tech conference

Like many opponents of renewable energy, Matt Roberts, executive director of the US-based Energy Storage Association (ESA) is not a fan of subsidies. However, unlike those anti-renewables lobby groups, Roberts sees that in the short term, they might be both necessary and effective, whether in the form of tax breaks such as the ITC for solar, or mandates, such as California’s AB2514 for energy storage. He is also, if you hadn’t guessed, a fan of renewables.

However, he says, clean energy is not properly valued in the US, making incentives and kick-starts necessary in the short term to support technologies like solar and solar-plus-storage. Roberts says that he will always favour market-based solutions over incentive-based ones. Yet there is a basic lack of a market structured to put value on non-polluting and potentially more efficient technologies over fossil fuels.

PV Tech Storage spoke yesterday with Roberts about a number of topics including the ESA’s annual technical conference, taking place in September in Portland, Oregon.

ESA's technical conference increasingly looks at real-world applications for energy storage technologies that are coming out of laboratories and R&D centres. Image: EOS Energy Storage facebook page.
From the lab to the real world

“There is some very technical content. We have new magnetic switching devices to eke out more efficiency in a battery system. We have new electro-chemistries that are being tested and how those work, or new vanadium component chemicals for flow batteries,” Roberts says.

“So there is that portion of it that is deep-dive, researcher, still-in-the-lab [content], which is great, and good for the industry to have.”

This includes an appearance by Washington University’s Dr William Pickard, who has been in electrochemical research for 30 years, presenting a talk provocatively titled "Large-scale storage, or else!"

Roberts says however that increasingly, as energy storage moves from lab-based research to a mainstream industry backed by proven technologies, even the technical conference is featuring more “science applied to the real world” content. These examples include modelling the impact of Washington’s Clean Energy Fund on system operations.

“Washington State said, hey we’re going to put money into clean energy. Ok, what came out of that? What did it do for storage, what did it do to the energy mix, how did it help or hurt Washington?”

According to Roberts, other topics include modelling comparisons between New York ISO’s fast regulation market and PJM’s frequency response market, looking at aspects such as impacts, how the markets were modelled ahead of their creation and project installation processes.

As someone who has been in the space for a number of years, Roberts said he was beginning to see an understanding across the industry of how storage technology can be applied beyond its simplest known concepts and applications, such as solar load shifting.

The ESA's executive director, Matt Roberts. Image: ESA.
Whitehouse recognises storage potential

Energy storage was mentioned, albeit briefly, in president Barack Obama’s address at a Nevada cleantech conference this week. Referencing Tesla, Obama highlighted the potential of energy storage in combination with related technologies, such as smart metering.

“It’s great to see continued support from the Whitehouse,” Roberts says.

“I think in some ways we’re the topic du jour, so if nothing else we’re a footnote in every speech nowadays! Which is fine, but it’s good to see that they were talking about investing in energy, in next-gen tech, in infrastructure. And as a part of that conversation they’re saying that storage is a critical component.”

Roberts says that policy and regulation are growing in importance too, as part of the increasingly practical focus of the technical conference. While it will cover residential and behind-the-meter storage as well, especially from a technology point of view, according to Roberts the policy and modelling side of the conference is “skewed” in favour of utility-scale tech and applications.

As for an overall ‘hottest’ topic, there is a parallel with recent developments in solar and wider energy discussions.

“The topic right now that is getting a lot of attention is distributed [energy]. It can take on a lot of meanings depending who you ask but distributed technology is the topic that’s on everyone’s mind, especially with NY REV and all this other stuff going on. So I imagine a lot of this conversation will live in that space as well. How do we do smaller systems, spread out more, so we can get more of the locational value and [other] intermediate values like that?”

Oregon’s storage mandate

In terms of those real-world applications, other speakers at the conference, which takes place from 21-24 September, will include one of the Public Utilities’ Commissioners for Oregon, John Savage. In June, the state implemented a mandate for its investor-owned utilities to procure energy storage, in a similar but smaller scheme to California’s. Through Assembly Bill 2514 (AB2514), California’s three investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have been called on to deploy 1.325GW of storage by 2020, while Oregon’s three IOUs of its own must procure 5MW of storage each by that year.

Roberts says the introduction of the mandate is a positive development.

“I think it’s positive that it’s moving forward. We’re not proponents of mandates, we’re proponents of market reform, but to some extent if the market’s not ready, then maybe different mechanisms need to be used,” Roberts says.

“I’ll be the first to say, if it has to be subsidised and have all these things enforced upon the industry, then it’s not correct.

“Because mandating a few systems is fine, people will start to see the value, but it’s not the long term, right? The long term viability of storage and the marketplace is in those market reforms.”

“If it’s worth more, then create a market structure that values it and stop with the incentives and all that stuff. Let’s take away all these energy incentives, put everything on a level playing field and say what do we want? We want cleantech that’s responsive and smart and able to do dynamic services on the grid and so on, and then create markets that value those characteristics. Right now the only thing the market values is how cheap something is.”

Visit PV Tech to read Matt Roberts’ views on the solar ITC, how it applies to storage and why he agrees with broad industry consensus that the tax credit must not be allowed to drop from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016, as planned.

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