• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/3233_shutterstock_778776601.rev.1571938034.jpg);" data-share-image="/live/image/gid/4/3233_shutterstock_778776601.jpg"/><div class="header-background-color"/>

Powering the Future Grid: Energy Storage

October 28, 2018
Resilience. It’s the new buzzword going around the U.S. electricity sector, and it’s defined by an electrical grid’s ability to recover from major disturbances (read: cyberattacks and natural disasters). President Trump and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have accordingly introduced plans to support struggling coal and nuclear plants because of their ability to store backup fuel on-site.

However, there is a new player in the resilience agenda, namely electric energy storage (EES). This technology can economically stockpile energy for use during grid failures and at a lower environmental impact when paired with renewable sources. Sec. Perry claimed “Battery storage changes the world, I will suggest, the same way that hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling has changed the world.”[1]

 Scientists, business people, and policymakers alike are starting to take notice. Battery capacity is expected to triple by 2021, with a majority of that investment happening in the Asian Pacific (South Korea and China in particular) and Europe.[2] In light of this global expansion, recent policy supporting energy storage’s entrance into the energy market have popped up in U.S. state and federal legislation as well.

The Science

There are many types of EES that are separated into families differentiated by the underlying physical mechanisms that store energy. For example, scientists have figured out how to store energy using compressed air, spinning flywheels, supercapacitors, hydrogen fuel cells, and even superconducting magnets. The most common storage method in the past has been pumped hydroelectric storage (essentially, pumping water to “charge,” and releasing it to “discharge.”) Lately, however, one technology has stood above the rest: the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery.

Due to its high energy density, tumbling cost, and relative safety, the Li-ion battery is poised to compete with legacy technologies in several energy and power applications.[3][4] The best part about the battery is that it is modular; it can be sized for a variety of different uses. Smaller scale modules can be installed in homes, “behind-the-meter,” paired with residential solar or used in electric vehicles. Large scale battery projects can jump start power plants after a blackout, and store renewable energy for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, and more.


Image: Large scale energy storage project in Pullman, WA Source: Wikimedia Commons


The Finance

As EES becomes more cost competitive in different applications, it can access a variety of revenue streams. This discussion will focus on three:

  1. Energy arbitrage creates revenue when the battery plant buys and stores low-priced power during off-peak demand hours and sells that same energy back to the grid at a higher price during peak hours.
  2. Frequency regulating plants are compensated through the ISO/RTO for mitigating the momentary imbalances between energy supply and demand.[5] During high demand, the batteries supply power, and during high supply, the battery stores it.
  3. Participation in the capacity markets generates revenue through selling commitments for future energy demand, up to three years in the future at a price determined by auction.

EES will soon be able to access an extremely valuable revenue stream when they integrate into peaking capacity.[6] Currently, when U.S. energy demand “peaks”, or spikes up, small natural gas plants, called “peakers”, ramp up production to meet the demand. In accordance with supply and demand rules, when demand spikes, price jumps as well, making the peaking capacity market lucrative. EES plants can ramp up to meet demand even faster, at an increasingly competitive price.

Recent research has shown that storage is most valuable when it can access these different revenue streams at the same time, a practice referred to as value-stacking.[7] This involves optimization software that tells the batteries which markets to participate in to yield the highest profits.

However, there are still economic challenges that face Li-ion batteries. There are several different battery chemistries, even within the Li-ion subset. While many worry about a global shortage of lithium, many reports don’t expect that rising lithium prices will be a significant challenge in the coming decade. But the rising price of cobalt, another important battery element, is driving scientists and businesses to work with low-cobalt chemistries.[8]

The Politics

While lithium-ion battery module costs have decreased by more than an incredible 80% in the last decade, the price must come down even further to be consistently competitive.[9][10] Some believe that government support will allow prices to fall even further, while others believe that improved battery chemistries and supporting technology improvements will suffice.[11]


Image: Lithium-ion Battery Price Survey, 2010-2016 Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Recent U.S. policy efforts to further energy storage have been mixed. It’s clear that Sec. Perry has supported storage in the past, but recent budget plans have drastically cut funding for the U.S. Department of Energy offices working with the technology.[12] Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Order 841, however, allows energy storage to participate in the capacity markets and ancillary services markets.[13]

Indirectly, policy surrounding electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy will also impact battery storage success. In countries like India, China, and Germany, where renewables are projected to penetrate the market to a larger-than-average extent in the coming decades, storage will be critical to making energy dispatchable during low-renewable events.[14] If government further supports EV adoption, the demand for batteries (used in the cars) can also increase. It is becoming more apparent that renewable, EV, and storage technology will evolve together given their mutually beneficial relationship. 

In the short term, though, energy storage might face more of a challenge in the US. The US shale revolution has provided extremely cheap natural gas, slowing the renewables growth that complement storage demand. India, too, faces storage barriers. Even with its high solar energy potential, India will likely rely on low-quality lignite coal for the near future because of fuel’s political importance.


While the Li-ion battery has made huge strides economically, technologically, and politically, it needs further development to completely displace legacy technologies. Time, so far, has been EES’s greatest ally, and if past trends are any indication, the Li-ion (or a new electrochemical battery technology), will play a huge role in grid resilience, renewable energy integration, and electric vehicles.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.


  [1] https://www.platts.com/latest-news/electric-power/washington/us-does-perry-sees-storage-as-potential-holy-21437709

  [2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032117306263

  [3] https://about.bnef.com/new-energy-outlook/

  [4] https://about.bnef.com/blog/lithium-ion-battery-costs-squeezed-margins-new-business-models/

  [5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_transmission_organization_(North_America)

  [6] https://www.wsj.com/articles/big-batteries-are-taking-a-bite-out-of-the-power-market-1518431400

  [7] https://www.rmi.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/RMI-TheEconomicsOfBatteryEnergyStorage-FullReport-FINAL.pdf

  [8] https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/battery-markets-and-metals-markets-have-officially-collided

  [9] https://about.bnef.com/blog/lithium-ion-battery-costs-squeezed-margins-new-business-models/

  [10] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/the-new-economics-of-energy-storage

  [11] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/the-new-economics-of-energy-storage

  [12] https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/trump-budget-slashes-clean-energy-programs

  [13] https://www.ferc.gov/whats-new/comm-meet/2018/021518/E-1.pdf

  [14] https://www.iea.org/publications/renewables2017/


  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>