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White House Announces Myriad Energy Storage, Smart Grid Projects

President Obama is looking for ways to cut energy use and help integrate renewable energy onto the power grid.

A parting shot from Barack Obama’s administration: Within the next five years, smart grid concepts such as advanced energy storage, microgrids and demand response will be accelerating toward deployment at a much faster clip than they are today.

On June 16, the White House unveiled a cornucopia of initiatives centered around energy storage. Taken together, the concepts are aimed at helping integrate variable renewable power sources such as wind and solar into the grid, establishing blackout-resilient systems and helping utilities better manage electricity demand. Among the White House’s announcements were:

  • Funding for microgrid projects at military bases and in rural areas.
  • Increased collection of data for energy use and rates, as well as standardization and privacy-minded dissemination of that data.
  • Programs meant to drive investment in energy storage systems.
  • Increased use of smart water heaters, energy meters and demand response to smooth out the energy use curve throughout the day.
Altogether, a White House fact sheet estimated that the initiatives could add 1.3 gigawatts of storage procurement or deployment in five years. To put that in context, U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows only about 250 megawatts of battery storage projects, and the White House estimates that there's a total of 500 megawatts in “advanced energy storage” in the entire country.

Though the administration’s Clean Power Plan is in limbo after several state attorneys general sued the Environmental Protection Agency, the energy storage initiatives are inherently aimed at reducing carbon emissions from the electric power sector. Researchers have found ways to use energy usage data to craft initiatives to reduce power consumption, storage can pave the way for renewable energy that's only available at certain times of day, and demand response programs help power companies avoid turning on “peaker” plants during times of high electricity use.

Along with the initiative came a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers examining high-level trends in the energy storage market. The announcements also included modeling projects looking at the finer details of large-scale renewables integration and how they might affect power grids in places like the northeastern U.S.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.