Electricity output to maximize revenue from hypothetical hybrid renewable energy and storage plants. (Trancik et al, Nature Climate Change)

For utilities that draw power from wind and solar, whether to invest in energy storage systems for these renewables can be a complicated decision.

In a new study published in Nature Climate Change, SFI External Professor Jessika Trancik and colleagues use techniques from complex systems science to assess the value of storage technology choices such as batteries, pumped hydroelectric, and compressed air energy storage.

“We find that it's becoming profitable to install energy storage alongside solar and wind energy in some locations,” Trancik says. “There is a window of opportunity for early storage adoption here, that would likely lead to significant technological improvement, as happened for solar energy.”

Despite the difficulty of assessing dynamics of electricity prices, solar and wind resource fluctuations, and the cost of renewables at various timescales, the researchers found that electricity prices exhibit similar patterns across very different locations. These emergent patterns allowed them to compare cost characteristics of competing storage systems across locations in California, Massachusetts, and Texas. In Texas, for example, pumped hydroelectric solar systems could add value to wind and solar installations, whereas in Massachusetts, market adoption would not make sense without some kind of policy support. 

The study also addresses which aspects of storage technologies need to be improved in order to bring down costs, thus providing future research direction in addition to investment guidance.

Read the article in MIT News (June 13, 2016)

Read the paper in Nature Climate Change (June 13, 2016)

Read an article about the impact of Trancik’s previous report on emissions and technology, presented at the White House in advance of the Paris climate negotiations (June 1, 2016)