pv magazine USA / May 18, 2021
The U.S. is on the cusp of a clean energy renaissance, but only if we walk the walk and limit our reliance on foreign supply chains. It’s possible. As a nation of inventors, entrepreneurs, builders and creators, we’ve always been nimble and scrappy enough to switch gears, hit a roadblock or two along the way, clear the path and persevere.
After spending nearly 30 years in the energy industry, and experiencing years of limiting political and market incentives, we have arrived at a moment that is different from any other period in our industry’s recent history. Renewable energy jobs surpassed 11.5 million in 2020.
In the U.S. alone, nearly 1 million people are employed in the renewable energy sector, almost five times more than fossil fuels. Wind service technician is the fastest growing occupation in the U.S. and solar installer is the third fastest growing according to the U.S. Board of Labor Statistics.
Cost is no longer an impediment to progress. The levelized cost of energy, or LCOE, for solar and wind projects are at historic lows and the cost of energy storage systems, which harness this energy and prevent it from being wasted, have plummeted 85% in the last decade and are projected to drop an additional 54% over the next decade.
China has long dominated the solar market, but without energy storage technologies, or simply batteries, renewable energy alone can’t provide the assurances that companies and communities need to feel safe and secure in their electric power supply. Batteries provide a modular, scalable, regional solution that can support the electric grid in the event of an outage, whether caused by extreme weather or a simple maintenance issue.
Recent outages, such as the aftermath of the winter storm in Texas or last summer’s California wildfires, have shown that we’re just one unexpected event away from the reality of a potentially catastrophic grid failure.
As renewables become an increasingly vital part of our complex energy infrastructure, intermittency, or fluctuations between surplus and scarcity of supply, must be managed. Excess production when demand is low, known as curtailment, can be captured and stored to increase the use of renewable energy sources.
In April 2020, California had 15 GW of curtailments, or unusable energy, in a single day—greater than all the energy storage capacity installed globally in 2020. And yet, there was still a scarcity of power when the state experienced 20 days of rolling blackouts last summer. Long duration discharge storage is a critical building block for a more sustainable energy system.
America has the ability to corner the 4-12-hour long-duration energy storage market on a global scale, but only if we have the will to embark on a manufacturing boom that we haven’t seen since the Model T. Investment in our domestic supply chain could alter the course of our economy and usher in a new and long overdue era of “made in America” leadership.
Today, 87% of these batteries are manufactured outside of the U.S. with China alone estimated to account for nearly three-quarters of global production as of the end of 2020. Further, over 95% of batteries deployed for stationary storage in the U.S. today are made from lithium-ion, which can only be sourced from a few countries including China and Korea.
Lithium has its place given its effectiveness at producing short bursts of energy, like those required in electric vehicles, but long duration storage made from safe and sustainable materials will be instrumental to unlocking the clean energy future that America should be marching toward.
At Eos, we’ve been doing this for years, from bringing resilience to the California power grid during last summer’s wildfires to supplying power to remote communities in Nigeria. Our batteries are powered by zinc, a widely available and conflict-free commodity. From there, we take a less-is-more approach—our product is non-flammable, non-toxic, fully recyclable after its life, and efficient in that it can operate in a wide voltage and temperature range.
As President Biden and Congress consider an infrastructure package and dig into U.S. competitiveness, we need to focus on investing in infrastructure and innovation here at home so that we’re better prepared for the next crisis, whatever it may be. We need policies in place to create a level playing field to compete, including a standalone energy storage investment tax credit and the removal of barriers to interconnection and market participation.
The good news is that we’re on the cusp of what could be a rebirth of American manufacturing and innovation in energy resilience as corporations race to reduce emissions and meet climate change goals. The number of companies that set targets and report progress increased nearly 300% from 2019 to 2020 and this figure is likely to grow with the U.S. and other countries setting aggressive targets for carbon mitigation.
I’m proud to say that Eos is leading the way. What if we took an underutilized factory in Pittsburgh and turned it into a modern-day manufacturing facility? We’ve done it. What if we trained Americans who were out of work and placed them into high paying clean jobs? We’ve done it—growing from 50 to 200 employees in just six months. What if every facet of our energy supply chain was sourced with components from the U.S. so that we would never encounter supply shortages? We’ve done it—from our Edison, New Jersey, headquarters to our Voltage Valley suppliers.
We’ve already created 200 jobs in the U.S. and with the right environment to grow, we’ll create more. Let’s supercharge our domestic supply chain and use American ingenuity to source it, manufacture it and scale it now. Energy storage is a critical tool to develop the grid of the future. If we don’t invest in this future today, it won’t be there when we need it the most.
Joe Mastrangelo is the CEO of Eos Energy Enterprises, a provider of zinc-powered clean energy storage systems.