A Step That Could Reshape The Energy Economy

Brian O’Hara – Charlotte Observer

North Carolina is No. 2 in the nation in solar capacity, and that leadership has transformed our state, providing great jobs, rural economic development, and low-cost, clean energy. But if solar is steadily marching our state toward an advanced energy economy, there is another technology that can turn that march into an all-out sprint. That technology is energy storage.

With advanced energy storage technology at our fingertips, we have the ability to completely reshape energy marketplaces. Energy storage enables us to deploy vastly more renewable energy by solving the intermittency challenge and making energy from solar available even when the sun isn’t shining. And the solar sector is just one clean energy sector that stands to benefit.

Advanced storage helps a wide range of resources become more efficient and competitive on the open market. Hydro, nuclear, wind, and biofuels, all benefit from energy storage. But the technology is still in its early stages and needs a boost to accelerate its development.

The Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act of 2019 would expand the current investment tax credit (ITC) to encompass energy storage technology. At the moment, only some storage projects that are paired with solar development can qualify for the ITC. But those restrictions leave out a huge number of energy storage projects that can deliver cost savings to customers.

To enact widespread grid modernization in the U.S., we need our energy storage capabilities to grow fast. This type of federal assistance is a proven method to growing nascent energy sectors. For almost 30 years, the U.S. government supported our natural gas industry with tax credits. Now our nation is a global leader in natural gas production.

Strata Solar, the North Carolina company I’m a part of, has already been ramping up our energy storage projects for everything from large utilities in California to small towns in North Carolina. Consumers across the nation are still paying premiums to access power during times of peak demand. Energy storage has the ability to change that. If utility-scale power generation is matched with advanced storage, then energy can be saved until it is needed at peak times, which virtually eliminates the scarcity that is behind utilities charging peak-demand rates to consumers.

In short, mature energy storage will save money for everyone and deliver great overall returns on investment.

Including energy storage capabilities in utility power operations also safeguards against the grid’s “wear and tear,” which occurs during surges and peak times. Because the maintenance costs associated with grid repairs are usually passed on to consumers, advanced energy storage further lowers the bills for consumers by helping to remove many of the pressures and stresses that are levied on the grid during peak times.

Making our national grid more efficient for all power sources is a popular concept on both sides of the aisle. The Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act of 2019 has gained broad, bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress—now we need our North Carolina congressional delegation to carry it through to the finish line.

More energy storage is the single most important technology in getting our nation to the next step in an advanced energy economy. To make that happen, we need to widen the current scope of the ITC to include energy storage tax credits for all storage projects, regardless of the power source.

Brian O’Hara is the SVP Strategy & Government Affairs for Strata Solar, based in Durham, NC. Before joining Strata Solar, O’Hara was President and Founder of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, where he led wind energy development, policy and advocacy efforts in the Southeast.

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