What Obama’s Last State of the Union Address Tells Us About the Future of Energy Storage

by Andrew Meyer
January 22, 2016
Energy

It’s been seven years since President Obama’s first State of the Union address. A lot can happen in seven years.

This week, the President’s State of the Union Address, the last one he will deliver, reflected some of the major changes that have taken place since he took office in 2009. We’re especially interested in what he had to say about renewable energy sources and storage. Even the mention of energy storage signifies the huge steps the solar storage industry has taken in the last decade, and the address implied that there’s a lot more where that came from.

The Growth of Renewables

Remember 2009? While America was busy autotuning, FarmVille-ing, and going gaga over Gaga, gas was also pushing $3 a gallon, and we had big plans for a trans-Canadian oil pipeline. Where were renewables? Just getting into their groove. In 2009, renewable energy represented around 10% of total energy generation in the United States. Installed renewable capacity hovered around 130GW (without hydropower, it was only around 53GW.) Out of the nearly 4k billion kWh of net generation in the US, solar was responsible for only.1%.

Fast forward to 2016. The pipeline is a no-go, gasoline prices have dropped nearly a dollar a gallon, and the Paris Climate Summit ended in a groundbreaking new deal, requiring nations around the world to make big changes in how they generate power. Whether you think PResident Obama had his hand in it or not, the energy world looks starkly different today than it did seven years ago. Even though energy wasn’t the main focus of the SOTU address, the President made some exciting implications. Let’s take Obama’s energy comments line by line, and talk about what has happened so far, and what the future might bring.

We’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.

When Obama took office, he moved into the White House amidst serious debates about where we were going to find affordable oil and gas. Then, shale happened. The United States started tapping into natural gas trapped in shale formations, causing a drastic cut in natural gas prices. Oil production also hit one of the biggest surges in history; so big, in fact, that refineries weren’t even ready for it.

But despite a seemingly overflowing supply of natural gas and oil, America has turned toward renewable energy at unprecedented levels, especially on the residential front. More and more households want to get their power into their own hands, protecting their home from blackouts and taking advantage of the free, clean energy offered every day by the sun. Solar panel installations have hit historic highs, and many states are offering monetary incentives to help homeowners ramp up their home energy systems, like the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) in California. In short, the program pays Californians for using certain renewable energy systems, like turbines, and also pays households with energy storage systems, like home batteries. We’re not talking about a few extra pennies, either. The SGIP pays energy storage users over a dollar per watt. This means that home battery owners in California not only enjoy backup power and blackout protection along with lower (or even non-existent) electricity bills… they also get paid. Which brings us to the President’s next renewable energy mention:

We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something environmentalists and tea partiers have teamed up to support.

That’s what we’re talking about. And the President wasn’t kidding about the universal support behind at-home energy generation. Debbie Dooley, a well-known tea party activist, made the news when she lead a group of conservatives in support of rooftop solar in Georgia. Dooley and powerful right-wing team took on Southern Co., the electricity monopoly in the state of Georgia, to expand solar efforts for homeowners, and allow more solar onto the grid. She even crossed state lines into Arizona and Wisconsin, where others were fighting similar fights.

The same thing happened in Florida, where a group of forward-thinking conservatives and clean energy advocates bonded together to put a rooftop solar initiative on the ballot, opening up Florida’s market and allowing more residential customers in.

Solar power generation isn’t the only focus, though. The Southeast and Midwest are also getting excited about energy storage, like home batteries, at unprecedented levels. As the President stated, Americans are teaming up to protect the freedom of not only generating your own energy, but also storing it. Once again, state promoted incentive programs are giving homeowners a huge boost here.

Energy storage is one of the highest incentive categories included in California’s SGIP, rewarded by $1.46/W. The lithium-ion home battery is a common, economical example of Advanced Energy Storage. Some home batteries store energy straight from the power grid, enabling owners to store power from the grid when demand and price is low, and use it later on in the evening, when many power companies hike prices and charge additional fees. Other home batteries store energy generated from outside, renewable sources like solar panels, giving owners the luxury of storing energy during the day when the sun’s rays are the strongest, and use that energy in the evenings when the sun goes down, and they need electricity the most. Either method is accepted under the SGIP, and eligible for compensation. Investing in renewable energy sources and home energy storage is easier than ever, and homeowners everywhere are lined up to receive free money to build their own energy empires. There’s no doubt that huge growth in the renewable energy storage industry has gone down during Obama’s Presidency. But what about the next eight years? Here’s where the President hopes we’re headed.

What Happened in Paris

The Paris climate summit peaked with a historic agreement this year, committing countries around the world to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and pledging cash money to support these commitments. President Obama signed the United States up to participate. To fulfill our end of the deal, there are going to have to be some big changes even after Obama leaves office.

In order to really move away from fossil fuels, we need to focus on storing the intermittent energy provided by renewable sources like solar and wind. It’s no secret that the wind and the sun aren’t consistent sources of energy. The earth rotates. The sun goes down. The winds wax and wane. But what it lacks in consistency, wind and solar make up for in strength, supply, and, well, consistency. Worldwide, there’s a crazy amount of solar and wind power ready to be harnessed, and even though it’s not always sunny where you are… it’s always sunny somewhere. The sun itself is pretty much as reliable as resources get. It’s not going anywhere (and if it does, we’re going with it.)

So, if we’re serious about decarbonizing the electrical grid, we’re going to have to get serious about storing all of the electricity we can get from the sun and wind. What’s specifically involved in “getting serious?” A lot. In 2014, the U.S. has set up about 100 megawatts of grid energy storage. To reach the goal, the U.S., along with Europe, China and India, are going to have to add 310 gigawatts more. Not megawatts… gigawatts. This wasn’t exactly in the forecast. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

2015 brought some really exciting new advances in lithium-ion batteries. These new batteries are high-capacity, and low-cost. They’re exactly what we’re looking for. But even low-cost batteries come at a high expense if we’re talking about a grid-wide scale. It’s a cost that U.S. isn’t confident that it can pay. As we move forward, closer and closer to the 2020 date set by the Paris Agreement, we’ll keep watch over what steps the United States takes toward an energy storage takeover. In the meantime, we’re going to keep spreading energy storage in the residential world, and you can too. The spotlight is on home batteries.

Home batteries are energy storage on a micro-scale, but they do for you exactly what grid-wide storage would do for nation-wide renewable energy: they store the energy generated by renewable energy sources like wind and solar, so you have reliable electricity when you need it. Experts from the fields of science, engineering, technology, and sustainability are all coming to the same conclusion: energy storage in the form of home batteries are the best way to launch residential use of renewable energy into the future.

With home batteries, your household can take a step forward into the future of renewable energy, cutting your personal ties to fossil fuels, and taking the power back into your own hands. Home batteries provide your household with the independence and reliability of electricity whenever you need it, without having to buy it from the grid. It’s pretty perfect.

Instead of just watching to see how the U.S. moves forward into a cleaner and more sustainable future, step in and participate with a home battery.