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The Path To Clean Energy Requires An Energy-Storage Revolution

Rep. Mike Honda says the government should support early adopters of energy storage.

With the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s announcement this month that, in no uncertain terms, climate change played a pivotal role in Louisiana’s unprecedented rainfall and catastrophic flooding, it’s clear that, as a nation, we must take notice. Our coastal communities, from California to New York, are in increasing danger and these "historic" moments will soon become the norm if we are not careful.

If we’re to prevent more of these catastrophes, we must switch off the dirty, carbon-emitting fossils fuels that are causing the climate chaos on our coasts. We need to move away from fuels that are making our kids sick, polluting our air and water, and warming our planet. We need to democratize energy, putting control of energy production and consumption in the hands of the people. We need to make it easy for individuals to store energy.

Thankfully, this is all very achievable.

New technology, invented in both of our Silicon and Hudson Valleys, has enabled us to harness the freely available sun and wind and gain independence from private electric utilities. Nothing could be more patriotic, democratic or freedom loving. These advancements, and forward-thinking energy policy, have led to the birth of new renewable energy industries and the rapid growth of green jobs across the country. Sustainable energy sources are now more affordable and accessible than ever before and provide communities across America with local, clean sources of energy.

This is all great stuff, but there’s a hiccup here. We need to scale up technologies that can manage the fluctuations of energy in the grid caused by the natural intermittency of wind and solar. We need to be able to store this stuff so, when it’s not sunny or windy, we’ve got ready backup. By storing renewable energy and delivering it when there’s demand, we can reliably and cleanly power our homes and businesses even when the air is still and the sun has set.

When people think about energy storage, batteries come to mind, but storage can come in many forms. It’s everything from smart batteries and pumped hydropower, to ultracapacitors, ice energy, compressed air and chemical energy storage. The diversity of these technologies has wide applicability, from powering a single home to providing hundreds of megawatts to entire communities via grid-scale storage.

To be clear, we have the technology; we just have to invest in it and scale it up. The return on investment is immediate. For example, energy storage reduces costs for businesses and industries that pay (often higher) ‘time of use’ energy prices. By using storage systems, they can better manage demand charges. Energy storage is improving plug-in vehicles and air conditioning systems, helping manage peak demand, improving performance of transmission systems, and more.

Costs are saved in other ways, too. These technologies are protecting our communities from extreme weather events that are occurring more and more often as our climate changes. As we have seen with Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, our energy infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to disruption. Energy storage systems can help provide power to critical infrastructure and services in times of emergency.

This is all within our easy reach. We can fundamentally improve the way we generate, deliver and consume energy. All we have to do is say yes to it. Legislation like the Energy Storage Act of 2016 (H.R. 5350), which Congressman Honda introduced to establish a tax credit for installing energy storage to promote the adoption of this transformational technology, is ready for the taking. Policies like this that encourage the adoption of storage technologies, support the companies creating the technologies, and recognize how much we stand to benefit from the next big thing in clean energy are important steps toward truly democratizing energy.

We don’t need more flooding along our coasts and we don’t need more dirty fossil fuels causing it. Instead, we need to put clean, renewable energy in the hands of every American, putting power literally in the hands of the people. The health and economic co-benefits are clear and compelling and can no longer be ignored. The more we invest in efficient energy strategies and technologies, the more we will create responsible, self-sustaining jobs and empower America.

We can think of nothing more patriotic. Time to start storing.

Mike Honda represents Silicon Valley and the 17th Congressional District and serves on the House Appropriations Committee. Michael Shank teaches sustainable development at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs.

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