• Energy Storage
  • Climate Change
  • Utilities
  • California Utilities

The Utility Market Is Ready for Nascent Long-Duration Storage Technologies

Isabelle Branco-Lo
Nov 10, 2020

Guidehouse Insights

In October 2020, eight community-choice aggregators in California requested offers for 500 MW of long-duration storage capacity. This is the first step toward California’s goal to have 1 GW of long-duration storage by 2026, which is meant to complement the ample solar and wind power resources that the state historically has been forced to curtail. Although the storage market (excluding pumped hydro) is led by lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries, they can typically only deliver up to 4 hours of storage. Much of the US relies on natural gas peaker plants to fill longer capacity gaps lasting 6-12 hours or more; however, these power plants are costly and emit harmful nitrous oxides when forced to ramp-up quickly. For more information, see the Guidehouse Insights blog on the disproportionate cost and health effects of peaker plants on low income communities.

Established Long-Duration Storage Technologies

Cheap long-duration storage will play a major role as intermittent renewables continue to flood the grid and natural gas peaker plants are forced to retire to comply with climate goals and environmental justice initiatives. While pumped hydro is the only cheap long-duration storage option operating at scale, these projects have extremely high upfront costs, are difficult to receive permits for and take an ecological toll on the environment.

Nascent Long-Duration Storage Technologies
Emerging long-duration storage technologies include batteries other than Li-ion, like flow batteries, sodium sulfur batteries, and copper zinc batteries. In early 2020, Form Energy, a startup backed by Bill Gates, confirmed its first deal with the Minnesota Utility Great River Energy to develop an aqueous air battery that can run for 150 hours. Thermal storage technologies can also store energy in molten salts or cryogenic liquids for long periods of time. Still other mechanical-based technologies involve storing energy as compressed air or liquids. High View Power’s partnership with Energía Latina S.A. Enlasa in Latin America uses liquid air and cryogenic technology to store between 10 MW and 200 MW of energy. The risk of technology failure often makes utilities and other power plant customers hesitant to adopt new technologies. With adequate business models and a favorable regulatory environment, however, it is possible that these technologies will become pervasive in the coming decades. California’s recent procurement is an opportunity to prove what is possible.