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Batteries open the door to more renewables on the grid, but new tech is the key

As utilities and businesses look to bring more renewable energy online to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel power, they're turning to newer battery technologies to get them there.

Today, Fluence Energy, a developer of energy storage projects, and QuantumScape, a solid state battery technology developer, said that they would partner on stationary power projects.

It's a big move for QuantumScape, which has already carved out a space for itself in the competitive market for electric vehicle batteries.

The agreement is akin to Tesla's ambitions to be a power provider and mobility company. Basically, what Tesla's doing for cars and solar energy deployments, QuantumScape is doing for batteries.

Stationary energy storage installations are projected to grow 2,000% (yes... that's 2,000) from 2020 to 2030. It's going to be a ginormous (technical term) $385 billion market opportunity, according to some projections.

It also unlocks the massive rollout of renewable energy that's needed to meet targets to keep the world at a 1.5 degree warming scenario.

That's why the local Portland utility, Portland General Electric, is partnering with ESS Tech, which makes long duration storage batteries for utility-scale and commercial storage applications.

It's a 3 megawatt hour pilot project, which will come online in mid-2022 to demonstrate use cases of the tech.

“Building a reliable, affordable clean energy future requires us working together with industry innovators,” said Darren Murtaugh, Senior Manager of Grid Edge Solutions at PGE, in a statement. “Our collaboration with ESS on the Energy Center will provide important learnings on our path to meeting our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.”

QuantumScape and ESS are just two of the companies developing long duration energy storage. And while these two companies are focused on chemical batteries, other companies are pursuing novel ways to store power for long periods to smooth the distribution of renewable power between solar's peak periods and wind generation.

Earlier this year, the Toronto-based company Hydrostor raised $250 million from Goldman Sachs to back the development of its projects.

In 2021, the company signed a deal to develop 1 gigawatt of storage using its compressed air technology. The two projects that Hydrostor has in the state will cost roughly $1.5 billion to develop and are expected to come online in 2026.

Regulators in California need to find storage technologies that can can save up power from the grid for at least eight hours as utilities look to replace power coming from the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant that‘s being decommissioned by 2025.

“As the world continues transitioning to sustainable and renewable energy sources, the need for utility-scale long-duration energy storage is clear, and Hydrostor’s A-CAES solution is well positioned to become a leading player in this emerging global market," said Charlie Gailliot, Partner and Head of Energy Transition Private Equity Investing within Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

Big money is also coming to back other storage projects and ink deals. Last year, Cambridge, Mass.-based Malta Inc. brought a big renewable project of its own to market.

Spun out from Alphabet’s moonshot division and backed by the multi-billion dollar climate change mitigation fund founded by Bill Gates, Malta has spent the past four years refining its technology and now bringing its first big 1 gigawatt project to market.

The partner for Malta’s latest deal, announced earlier this week, is NB Power, the Canadian utility. When it’s completed, in 2024, Malta’s 1 gigawatt storage facility will be the largest of its kind in the world, the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, plans are progressing for a 500 megawatt construction of the first commercial scale gravity-based storage facility from Energy Vault.

Working with DG Fuels, a company looking to make sustainable aviation and diesel fuel from a combination of crop waste and hydrogen, Energy Vault’s first storage development is part of a larger 1.6 gigawatt deal that will see its technology rolled out in Ohio and Canada as well as Louisiana.

With a storage capacity of 12 hours, the Hydrostor technology is roughly as flexible Malta’s 10 hour storage capacity. Energy Vault, by contrast, can store power for up to 24 hours.

There are companies developing technologies that can store power for even longer periods of time.

And heat’s at the heart of the technology for both Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Antora Energy and Electrified Thermal Solutions out of Boston. Both are using superheated blocks to store energy at temperatures over 1,500°C, and then turn it back to electricity for the grid when needed.

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