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The US just smashed its record for energy storage

Utility-scale battery in California.
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
California is leading the booming energy storage market in the US.
  • Tim McDonnell
By Tim McDonnell

Climate reporter

Published

Zero-carbon electricity from wind and solar is great for the climate. But because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, it can be a headache for grid operators who have to make sure electrons are flowing steadily to homes and businesses. The solution is energy storage: big batteries that can capture and release power from intermittent sources when it’s most efficient.

The scale-up of storage has been steady, but slow over the last several years. But in the last three months, the US energy storage market has absolutely boomed, according to new data from Wood Mackenzie—giving renewables a major boost in the fight to displace fossil fuels.

The third quarter of this year smashed the record for new US battery installations, beating out the second quarter (the previous record) by 240%. The charge was led by “front-of-the-meter,” also known as utility-scale, systems, as opposed to batteries on homes, businesses, or factories.

That’s a sign that power companies, and not just climate-minded individuals, are laying the groundwork for a much cleaner grid—which is essential, since the grid accounts for at least one-quarter of US carbon emissions. And the grid is expected to shoulder even more of the overall energy burden as cars, heating systems, and other points of fuel consumption go electric.

The majority of the new installations were in California, which not only has one of the country’s biggest existing fleets of wind and solar farms, but also has one of the country’s most aggressive decarbonization targets: 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045. It’s a major incentive for power companies to move early on storage. In September, the world’s largest battery came online in the state.

Once president-elect Joe Biden is in office, the storage market could heat up even more. He has promised to push the US toward an even more ambitious goal than California’s: 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2035. NextEra Energy, the country’s biggest utility, already has plans to spend $1 billion on storage systems next year alone.

“These eye-catching deployment totals represent only the beginning of a long-anticipated scale up for the US storage market,” said Dan Finn-Foley, WoodMac’s head of energy storage. “Considering the scale of systems anticipated for 2021 we do not expect this record, as remarkable as it is, to stand for long.”

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