Advanced energy storage could be Ohio’s next boom, with the help of federal investment tax credits

Cleveland Plain Dealer – Phil Brennan

AKRON, Ohio — Ohio’s energy sector has been transformed over the past decade, as anyone who lives in the eastern part of the state can tell you. Thanks to the Utica Shale, our production of cleaner-burning natural gas was more than 28 times higher in 2018 than in 2012.

The process has helped revitalize small towns across the region and created thousands of jobs. More importantly, increased natural gas production has helped to curb our nation’s carbon emissions, and it is recognized as an important “bridge fuel” to help us transition to a net-zero, clean energy economy.

But there is an even bigger juggernaut around the corner that could lead to a new era of transformation for Ohio energy if Congress acts before the end of the year.

The “Holy Grail” of the energy sector is advanced energy storage technology, and it could be Ohio’s next energy boom as projects are already underway here. It would be an energy multiplier, solving the intermittency problem associated with renewable resources like solar and wind energy.

When the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, we need to turn to traditional resources that are higher emitters; but what if that renewable energy could be stored for later use when demand is higher?

This problem is one of scale.

We’re all familiar with the batteries we use every day for devices like our smartphones. But holding massive amounts of energy that could supply an entire regional electric grid is very, very challenging, and it would require a great deal of investment, with returns that are currently uncertain.

That is why the government needs to step in, to help provide incentives for the initial investment. Right now, there is legislation that could make the difference.

The Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act currently before Congress would leverage the existing Investment Tax Credit, which has had a remarkable track record of success in attracting investors, by adding energy storage as an eligible tax credit. It would further clarify how storage projects are credited in order to create a level playing field across a wide range of electric grid technologies and allow energy storage to pair with any type of generation asset.

Advanced energy storage technology is not pie in the sky; practical solutions are near. For example, my company, Echogen, is executing a $3 million contract to ARPA-E, a competitive grant program within the U.S. Department of Energy that funds cutting-edge, next-generation research. Our contract is to design and build a proof-of-concept kilowatt-scale Electro-thermal Energy Storage (ETES) system, employing low-cost, high-temperature storage materials such as concrete and sand. In parallel, efforts are underway to identify partners and a host site for a 10-megawatt demonstration.

When energy storage takes off, Ohio could be a leader if we can use the Investment Tax Credit to help attract investors to similar projects. With our world-class universities and labs, we have the talent right here in the Buckeye State to crack the case.

It’s an important opportunity because of this moment in history. Ohio could be leading the way in addressing climate change because energy storage will increase the efficacy of a host of renewable resources and make traditional energy more efficient. That will, in turn, lead to more investment in research and development.

Ohioans who remember the 2003 blackout understand the everyday implications of strengthening grid resiliency through energy storage. In the same way a backup generator provides power during outages or climate events, medium- and long-term energy storage can provide consumers power when they would otherwise have none.

We need to be working now to be ready for the next disaster, because it may not be as benign as that blackout. We can also keep the economic boom going, and not just in terms of jobs and GDP. Energy storage will save household budgets hundreds or thousands of dollars each year by avoiding or eliminating premium pricing that utilities charge during times of peak demand.

However, the federal Investment Tax Credit begins winding down after 2019, so Congress must act this year to gain the maximum benefit.

Echogen recently had the opportunity to travel to Washington to meet with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup in conjunction with Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions to discuss the issue. I am grateful they were so receptive and took the time from their busy schedules to listen to me, and I believe they will help lead the effort to pass the Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act. I urge the rest of Ohio’s congressional delegation to do the same.

Phil Brennan is CEO and co-founder of Echogen, based in Akron.

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