Clean Energy Group has published a battery guide for activists and foundations as pressure groups increasingly see energy storage as a key component of their clean-energy toolkits.  

The Vermont-based nonprofit said its report, Jump-Start: How Activists and Foundations Can Champion Battery Storage to Recharge the Clean Energy Transition, should prompt action and support to advance battery storage, either deployed alone or paired with renewables.

The publication surveys 10 areas where batteries are transforming the energy system, from reducing demand charges to replacing peaker plants

It also proposes 50 actions nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can promote to accelerate rates of battery storage adoption, including investigating new behind-the-meter market opportunities, creating energy resilience plans and funding critical solar-plus-storage projects. 

“This report is for activists and foundations who want to understand how battery storage can become a new part of their clean energy and climate advocacy,” states the publication. It notes the document is designed to explain the emerging economic, equity and environmental trends for battery storage use across all elements of the energy system.

The publication comes as NGOs increasingly move to embrace battery storage as a key ingredient for future low-carbon scenarios. 

In the U.K., for example, the advocacy group Greenpeace lists “giant batteries” as one of four measures, including flexible gas plants, that can help wind power’s capacity to support the grid. 

Friends of the Earth, another global environmental group, also cites batteries as part of the equation for an energy system based largely on renewables. Electric cars and batteries will “stockpile electricity for us,” says the group

Beyond the rhetoric, a robust defense of battery storage has already helped advocacy groups win some battles against the fossil-fuel industry. 

As reported in GTM, for example, NRG's efforts to build the Puente gas plant in Oxnard, California were set back last year after a coalition of clean energy concerns, environmental justice advocates and the city itself touted energy storage as a cleaner alternative.

The California Independent System Operator studied the local grid needs and determined storage and other distributed assets could do the job of the gas plant.

“Storage, particularly combined with renewables, is transformational,” said Lewis Milford, president of Clean Energy Group and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

For years, he said, the intermittency of renewables has been a problem that hasn’t really had a solution. “Now, for the first time, given the technology innovations and the cost reductions, we have a potential solution to that problem,” he said.

Seth Mullendore, Clean Energy Group vice president and project director, said the lack of a viable way to store renewable energy had previously prevented advocacy groups from focusing on its intermittency at all. 

With a growing debate over if and how it is possible to achieve a 100-percent-renewable energy system, though, the intermittency issue is hard to ignore. Falling battery costs seem to have come along at just the right time to plug the gap. 

“Studies are saying we can get to 80 percent without long-term or seasonal storage,” said Mullendore.

As a result, said Milford, there is a growing sense that battery storage can serve an environmental purpose as well as having economic benefits.  

Battery storage is not without its drawbacks, however, and the 162-page Clean Energy Group document acknowledges that the environmental integrity of materials extraction and battery manufacturing processes for storage applications is “a valid concern to many.”

It singles out cobalt extraction as a particular area of concern and notes that 60 percent of the world’s supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where thousands of miners, including children, mine the mineral by hand with little oversight and few safety measures. 

“It goes without saying that more needs to be done to improve the conditions of miners in the Congo and other impoverished regions of the world,” says the report.

It also notes that it is still not clear that battery companies have a serious or enforceable plan to eliminate sourcing problems.

The study falls short of covering some of battery storage’s more complex challenges. Instead, it focuses on the challenges that will arise if energy storage isn't deployed at scale. 

"If foundations and activists do not support the role of battery storage technology and take sufficient action, that failure could lead to greater environmental emissions, a continued clean energy divide between the haves and the have-nots, further reliance on natural gas to fuel the power system, [and] a disproportionate emissions burden for disadvantaged communities," states the report overview. A failure to advance battery storage would also fail to "enable a renewables-based power system that meets long-term climate stabilization goals."